The Digital Piranesi

Another view of the Temple of the Sibyl in Tivoli (1 of 2)

This temple was a popular subject during and before the eighteenth century. Paintings by artists including Claude Joseph Vernet (1714-1789) and Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) emphasize its surrounding picturesque countryside, and etchings by numerous artists convey its architectural details. The angle of observation that this view adopts, though, is far from popular. Piranesi produced three views of the Temple of the Sibyl, with the second two sharing the title of “Altra veduta del Tempio della Sibilla in Tivoli.” Throughout the Views of Rome, certain monuments receive similar attention in a “view” followed by “another view.” As Zarucchi has observed, this “other view” “is literally a ‘reverse side’ of the previous image,” which has the effect of “rendering invisible and perhaps symbolically undermining the very notion of the architectural grandeur of antiquity” (369). Indeed, the visual composition emphasizes a crumbling wall, only two columns of the intact expanse of the colonnade are visible, and large architectural fragments overwhelm the foreground. But as the annotations make clear, Piranesi’s focus in this image lies with the material contents rather than the aesthetic grandeur of the temple. He carefully differentiates, in verbal annotations and etching technique, between travertine, stucco, stone, and concrete. This “other view” does provide a better angle on the texture of building materials by bringing the viewer closer to the structure itself. In a similar way, the figures in the foreground are, compared to those in the first view, also in close proximity to architectural substance, as they touch and lean on column fragments. Throughout Piranesi’s Views of Rome, architectural rubble often crowds the foreground, impeding a viewer’s imaginative entry into the image (Verschaffel). In this view, though, these fragments are an integral element of the image rather than an imaginative impediment, and they are signaled for their evidentiary importance. An annotation refers to remains scattered here and there—“avanzi sparsi quà e là”—from which it can be deduced that certain elements of the temple were made of travertine covered with stucco. This “other view” offers the perspective, perhaps, of the archaeologist rather than the tourist, or that of the native of Tivoli (or Rome), whose experience of antiquity combines the visual with the tactile while subsuming aesthetic grandeur within material proximity.  (JMB)

To see this image in Vedute di Roma, vol 17 of Piranesi's Opere, click here.

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