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View of the Animal Cages Built by the Emperor Domitian for the Colosseum
Veduta del Piano Superiore del Serraglio delle Fiere Fabbricato da Domiziano a uso dell’Anfiteatro Flavio, e Volgarmente detto la Curia Ostilia
Title: VEDUTA DEL PIANO SUPERIORE DEL SERRAGLIO DELLE FIERE FABBRICATO DA DOMIZIANO A USO DELL’ANFITEATRO FLAVIO, E VOLGARMENTE DETTO LA CURIA OSTILIA Key: Il primo piano di questa gran fabbrica rimane interrato nelle rovine, che inoggi uguagliano il piano di Roma, e dagli scavi fattivi, si è trovato parimente composto di grossi macigni di travertino. A. Segni, ove si appoggiavano i muri di tavolozza che serravano gli archi. B. Muri de’ tempi bassi. Sopra di questi Archi è fabbricato il Campanile e Convento de’ Padri della Missione di Santi Giovanni, e Paolo. Signature: Piranesi Architetto fec(it). Signature 2: Presso l’Autore a Strada Felice vicino alla Trinita de’Monti.
Title: View of the Animal Cages Built by the Emperor Domitian for the Colosseum, commonly called the Curia Ostilia Key: The first floor of the great structure remains buried in the ruins, that today are on the same level as that of modern Rome, and from the excavations done there, it was discovered that they were also composed of large blocks of travertine. A. Markings or grooves where they set the walls of tavolozza [type of geometric stone] that closed up the arches. B. Walls of the low times [dark ages]. Above these arches, the Bell Tower and Convent of the Monks of the Mission of St. John, and Paul were built. Signature: Made by the Architect Piranesi. Signature 2: Published by the Author in the Strada Felice near Trinità de Monti.
Following the four imposing and expansive views of the Colosseum grouped together in the Opere, this view of what was commonly known as the Curia Hostilia seems restricted by its subject matter. This engraving uses a variety of visual indications to convey information about the different levels—under and above ground, beyond and within view—of this structure. Piranesi’s title explains one use of this building, as the location of cages for the wild animals (which he refers to as “fiere”) that were part of the savage entertainments staged in the Colosseum. While this image emphasizes people’s contemporary engagement with the structure, this plate from the fourth volume of Antichità Romane offers a desolate cross-section of the structure’s built layers that are, in this image, presented through verbal indication and visual suggestion.
A group of tourists to the left in the foreground point to the arches above, as do both of Piranesi’s annotations. A ladder on the left and another on the right are perched against a wall, and a third leads down to the former “primo piano” that is now buried in ruins. Excavations there, the complete text of Piranesi’s lengthy title explains, revealed that the walls on that level were, like those visible on the contemporary ground-level floor, made of travertine. Annotations signal material evidence of construction methods and history: marks or indentations where geometric stones completed the arches (A) and walls constructed during the middle ages, which Piranesi disparagingly refers to as the “tempi bassi” (B). The building is presented here as a site of contemporary observation (through the eyes of the tourists), recent excavation (suggested by the ladder that leads down), and centuries of ruination and rebuilding (in the annotations). With visual and verbal cues, Piranesi reveals, within the restricted visual range that the veduta offers here, an expansive material history. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.