This page was created by Erin Jones.  The last update was by Harith Kumte.

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Capitoline Hill

Piranesi combines in this view a unique presentation of a popular site with his own pursuit of patronage. The subject of this etching, the Piazza di Campidoglio [or Capital], lends itself to representations that foreground the dramatic ascent of the cordonata, the main flight of steps. Piranesi dutifully provides such a representation in the previous etching, which has been dated to 1747, the year he began producing the individual views that would constitute the Vedute di Roma (Battaglia 96-7). Atop the hill, though, Piranesi adopts a slightly elevated one-point perspective, which he employs to more dramatic effects in his expansive views of Renaissance façades, that is here restricted by the facing Chiesa d’Araceli [Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli]. The restrictions of this view and its relegation of antiquity to the image’s edge stand in contrast to the fanciful antiquity he postulates in a capriccio from Prima Parte (1743), which he describes as an “ancient Campidoglio.” Additionally, the ancient statues are presented from above, either in profile or from the rear, with less imposing effects that might belie the sustained interest he dedicates, for example, to the Trofeo di Ottavio Augusto in a detailed study here.

In the foreground, s
treet life firmly locates the Renaissance piazza in the eighteenth century: the bustling activity of carriages and vendors creates a linear boundary, almost entirely in shadow, while sunlight falls on the piazza and the Church of Santa Maria in Aracoeli. With the first item in the key, Piranesi’s practical concerns become clear. He labels the Senatorial Palace as the “Abitazione di Sua Eccellenza il Signore Senatore di Roma.” Don Abbondio Rezzonico, Senator of Rome during Piranesi’s working life, became the artist’s patron, acquiring many of his early works. His brother Giovanni Battista Rezzonico, Grand Prior of the Order of Malta and a Cardinal, commissioned the only architectural plans of Piranesi’s to be realized—the renovations for Santa Maria del Priorato—in the 1760s, and Piranesi is known to have designed interiors for Giovanni Rezzonico’s residence at the Palazzo Quirinale, Don Abbondio’s at the Palazzo Senatorio, and their uncle, Pope Clement XIII’s, at Castel Gandolfo. Although evidence of the actual interiors is scant, Piranesi’s drawings of furniture that the family owned, such as this small table, appear in his Diverse maniere d'adornare i cammini, which he dedicated to Giambattista Rezzonico (Barry 91; Wilton-Ely 1988, 102-3; González-Palacios 224-6). Within a patronage system that placed high value on sharing a hometown, the Rezzonico brothers were, as fellow Venetians, powerful connections for an artist whose efforts to depict and preserve antiquity were always intertwined with the necessity of financial support. (JB)

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

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