The temple’s ruined nature but lasting presence are the image’s titular focus, as an image of The symmetrical boulders of the collapsed ceiling . The fallen ceiling, the standing ruin, and the key also create three levels of symmetry. At the center of this visually balanced image, three human figures, facing each other in a sliver of white ground, create a sense of inaccessibility. At odds with this visual symmetry and enclosure, two figures in the foreground, in front of the fallen vault, gesture dramatically with both arms towards the left of the image, and a third man glances over his shoulder in the same direction. If, as viewers, we are not asked to join the circle of the three men at the center of the image, we are certainly invited to follow the vertical line created by the gestures and glance of the three men in the foreground. Doing so, we see the letter D, and are invited to become readers of this annotated image. In the key, Piranesi conclusively identifies the fallen vault. The other alphabetic annotations all mark the temple’s materials and decorative elements, until an additional sentence that is separate from any alphabetic pointer suggests, based on absent evidence on the other side of the temple, a different designation. Through its merging of visual composition with verbal pointers, this word-image composite traces a process of conjecture about architectural and historical details that are either accessible or unknown. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.