This page was created by Constance Caddell.  The last update was by Avery Freeman.

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Colosseum (2 of 2)

Ascending from the worm’s-eye view of the previous image to a bird’s-eye view, this veduta, produced two decades later, presents an imaginary angle for the eighteenth-century citizen on a structure that is nearly impossible to depict. Indeed, locating the Colosseum’s intact wall in the background rather than the foreground produces a “perspectival distortion” that creates “the impression of a perfect circle” (Zorach, 118) and suggests that the amphitheater is “beyond representation” (Furlong, 112). This distortion is also a combination of three architectural views—elevation, section, and plan (Wilton-Ely, 44). While Piranesi’s depictions of ruins often celebrate the natural growth that covers them, and in spite of the astoundingly prolific botanical variety within the Colosseum, it here resembles a giant open crater, lifeless and deserted (Bacou, 37) or perhaps “an extinct volcano,... an eruption of the building genius of the Romans” (Scott, 249). At the center of the image is a Christian cross, and within the Colosseum is, as Piranesi’s caption indicates, a modern church. But the focus and possibly even the appearance of the captions in this image, whose title (“Veduta dell’anfiteatro Flavio detto il Colosseo,” or “View of the Flavian Amphitheater, called the Colosseum”) distinguishes between the ancient and contemporary name of its subject, emphasize Imperial rather than Christian Rome. They appear on illusionistic scrolls, which, uncommon for Piranesi’s captions in the Views of Rome, suggest imperial proclamations. Indicating the separate seating areas of “i Consoli, il Senato, i Sacerdoti, e le Vergini Vestali [the Consuls, the Senate, the Priests, and the Vestal Virgins],” “l’Ordine Equestre [the Equestrian Order],” “la Gioventù nobile co’loro Pedagoghi [the noble Youths with their Tutors],” and “le Donne [the Women],” the captions stress class hierarchy and social order (Zorach, 119). From the geometric regularity and expansive scope of this and the previous depiction of the Colosseum, the following view presents a radically different perspective, both visually and conceptually. (JB)

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

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