This page was created by Diem Dao.  The last update was by Jeanne Britton.

The Digital Piranesi

Interior of the Temple of the God Canopus at Hadrian’s Villa

This interior view of the temple introduced in the previous view firmly situates this ruined structure in the context of antiquarian excavation. It is a study in light and shadow in which extensive plant growth at the top of both the roof and the image creates an almost subterranean effect that is enhanced by foreshortening and chiaroscuro (Pinto and MacDonald 259). The clear and bright key illuminates numerous details in the dark interior. In the well-lit center of the image, two human figures crouch and kneel before an emptied recess where, the key explains, a fountain once was. These men, who focus intently on the ground as if in study, seem to partake of the archaeological impulse expressed in the caption. In a similar way, the repeated indications of mosaics—the five letter C’s that appear in the image—bring to this immersive, shadowy view the active identification of architectural detail and the precise dating of archaeological discovery. Another note refers to excavations in 1771. These were overseen by Gavin Hamilton (1723-1798), a Scottish painter and antiquarian who worked closely with Piranesi, providing him with vases and ornamental fragments that he advertised and sold in his showrooms (or what he called his own “museo”). Hamilton organized excavations at many sites in the neighborhood of Rome, and his finds are today in collections such as those of the Vatican Museums and the Borghese family. Piranesi directly benefitted from this activity, with Hamilton’s finds serving as subjects of illustration in his Vasi, Candelabri, Sarcofagi, Tripodi Lucerne et Ornamenti Antichi (see the Warwick Vase from Tivoli, this vase from Pantanello in Hadrian’s Villa) and, in other cases, as merchandise bought by grand tourists and sold by Piranesi. This caption links such plunder to the aestheticized encounter with an active archaeological site. (JB) 

To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here

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