As the seated figures in the foreground seem to glance to the right of the image, the pronounced one-point perspective leads a viewer’s eyes to the left, down a receding diagonal line of ruined and irregular arches. The large, dark masses of stone on the ground are both a physical obstacle for a passing carriage and a visual impediment for the viewer’s entry into this image. Its only annotation directs our eyes not to details about the structure’s age or decay—the “vecchiezza” that the caption notes motivated the desire for its destruction—but instead to a small corner of a nearby building which houses the Scala Sancta, known as the Pontifical Sanctuary of the Holy Stairs. Its modern features and rectilinear surface, barely visible in the upper right, offer minimal contrast with the heavily-inked and deeply-etched arches of the aqueduct. But the posture that pilgrims adopt—its 28 holy stairs can only be climbed on one’s knees—creates a curious contrast with Piranesi’s description of the standing aqueduct.
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.