This page was created by Erin Jones.  The last update was by Jeanne Britton.

The Digital Piranesi

Side View of the Capitoline Hill

This foreshortened view of what is essentially a Renaissance reconstruction atop ancient rubble suggests a transition in subject matter from early modern architecture to ancient remains. This view of the Piazza di Campodoglio is from an angle later adopted by other vedutisti including Luigi Rossini (1790-1857) and Gaetano Cottafavi (1828-1864). In terms of composition, the most striking difference between Piranesi’s rendition and those of these nineteenth-century artists is the crowd of people in the foreground that Piranesi ensconces in a mass of architectural remains, an “outstanding group of tense figures in heated debate” (Wilton-Ely 1988, 38). These remains are at odds with the ordered façades of Renaissance buildings emphasized in the two previous images of the piazza, and the vivid detail of broken fluted columns gives a palpable sense of the ancient structures buried beneath the buildings in the background. In such close proximity, these figures—the largest of any human figures in the Vedute di Roma—seem to gesture expressively rather than indicatively. If they are unaware of the piazza itself, the image caption that appears to emerge from the architectural remains around them takes up the task of pointing to and identifying its restored and repositioned ancient statues.

Most prominent among these remains is one of the two trophy statues of Augustus, one of which the previous image depicts in miniature and from behind. These so-called trophies, sources of particular fascination for Piranesi, are composites of battle implements that were seized from a defeated enemy and assembled on wooden frame. Numbered annotations instruct viewers to observe significant elements. In the background, from a high window in the Capitoline Museum (4), a viewer looks north over the Piazza. From a perch the Tabularium, which runs along the rear side of the neighboring Senatorial Palace, Abbondio Rezzonico, the Senator of Rome honored in the indication of the palace (2), often invited guests, including Piranesi, to enjoy sweeping southeastern views of the Forum. The Tabularium is visible from the Forum in this view of the Arch of Septimus Severus. Piranesi did in fact sketch the Forum from the palace’s elevated position, which affords the view depicted in the following image. Between the two previous views of the Piazza di Campidoglio and the following view of the Forum, this image serves as something of a transition from modern to ancient, from façade to fragment. With its vantage point, composition, and annotations, this view emphasizes the preserved and fragmented remnants of antiquity that, beginning with the view of the Forum sketched from one of the buildings here, are the subject of the rest of this volume. (JB)

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

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