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

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Roman Forum (1 of 2)

The Forum was and continues to be among the best-preserved sites of ancient Rome. Ruins of triumphal arches, temples, and theaters revealed the city’s multi-layered history, from its origins as the center of Roman politics, through its use as a medieval cattle market (referred to in Piranesi’s title, “Campo Vaccino”), to the site of papal processions and the hub of tourism that it is today. The first of three views of the Forum provides a panorama of the entire site, and it functions as a tourist map. Piranesi labels the must-see landmarks on the Grand Tour itinerary. The print served not only as a map for the site but also as an advertisement for Piranesi’s works. The monuments labeled in the image and in the key were among the first that Piranesi depicted individually in the Views of Rome series (Bevilacqua 53-60), and they initiated his career in the veduta genre. By pointing to these particular monuments, this view forms the visual counterpart to Piranesi’s print catalog.

The business generated by the Grand Tour is further highlighted by the prevalence of ciceroni or guides, who gesture theatrically towards the ancient ruins. On the right, two dilettantes stand atop a fragment—which cannot be distinguished as natural or man-made—and point to the Forum below. The placement of the characters in the foreground accentuates the juxtaposition between neglected ancient fragments around them and the grandeur of the ancient past displayed in the background. While Piranesi’s contemporaries tended to portray the Forum in an idyllic manner, he emphasizes its broken, crumbling, and overgrown ruins. Beyond its functions as a tourist map or a commerical advertisement, this veduta also performs the deictic features that are inherent in ruins themselves, as indications of what is lost (Ferri 98). Perhaps in this vein, almost half of the 15 sites identified in the key are specified as “vestigie” or “avanzi” of monuments. The interrupted arches and broken columns could be considered a symbol of irrevocable loss, a prompt to ruminate on the idea of the ruin and the histories it embodied, yet for Piranesi, they invoked a sense of permanence—the vestiges, the remains—that resisted the ravages of time. (ZL)

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

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