This page was created by Alexis Kratzer.  The last update was by Jeanne Britton.

The Digital Piranesi

Remains of the Aqueduct of Nero

The Aqua Claudia is one of the aqueducts that flows through the Porta Maggiore, the subject of the previous view. With the structure above, Nero extended this aqueduct to the Caelian Hill. As an image of “avanzi” rather than a “veduta,” it emphasizes with its title and caption that the persistence of antiquity is, in this case, the result of papal authority. In Piranesi’s day, the caption informs us that, despite wishes for its destruction, the aqueduct has been  preserved by order of Clement XIV. Born Giovanni Vincenzo Antonio Ganganelli (1705-1774), he oversaw the organization of the Vatican’s art collections and the imposition of limits on the export of Roman artifacts during his brief papacy (Johns). Piranesi’s trompe-l’œil caption conveys this instance of preservation through an illusionistic merging of etching with landscape and notable phrasing: “Avanzi degl’ Aquedotti Neroniani che si volevano distruggere per la loro vecchiezza, ma per ordine di Nostro Signore Papa Clemente XIV sono restati in piedi.” These remains, literally standing “on their feet,” command all the admiration that Piranesi’s dramatic composition and a pope’s beneficence can summon.

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. (JB)

To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.

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