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

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Roman Forum (2 of 2)

Piranesi takes viewers from the panoramic view seen in the previous image to a close-up of the very heart of the forum. This perspectival shift demonstrates one of Piranesi’s primary visual strategies: creating a series of views that engage with specific debates in each print, while also presenting unified arguments or contrasting points of emphasis across prints (and in many cases, even across his publications). This juxtaposition of views of the forum enhances the monumentality of the ancient ruins, particularly in contrast to the contemporary built environment. For Barbara Maria Stafford, this image depicts the “maze of isolated and scattered remains” that Piranesi taught his audiences to navigate as an index to buried architectural histories. His synthetic vision could only be achieved via his “heroic span of views” (1991, 69-70).

On the immediate right, the three massive yet ravaged columns of the Tempe of Giove Statore tower over miniscule human figures, who appear as faded shadows. Rendered in shallow relief, like the modern buildings that frame the print, they are merely specks in a sea of decaying grandeur. Sitting precariously over the Corinthian capitals and pieces of fluted pilasters, the broken architrave of the Temple continues to outshine the most pristine modern buildings on the right. In the far distance, the coffered vaults of the Golden House of Nero (labeled “8” in the key) loom over the surrounding buildings and are framed only by the clouds. The archways of the Colosseum, rendered with the greater force of the burin on the plate, appear darker and more detailed, especially when compared to the flat, white, and empty surface of the Church of Santa Francesca Romana (labeled “6”). While the magnificence of Roman architecture and urban design is shown here through monumentality, history supports Piranesi’s visual argument in the following print of the forum. 

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

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