This map is based on the Severan Marble Plan, an ancient map carved on stone tablets whose surviving fragments had recently been displayed in the Capitoline Museum. Piranesi condenses his printed version of the ancient map such that it can be viewed in a single glance, while the original marble map, at approximately 60 x 43 feet, could not. He also makes the map appear to be made of large marble slabs but breaks this illusionistic effect, though, by extending fragments over the map’s border and into the textual key. Similarly, the letters of “ROMA” resemble the metal used in ancient inscriptions, of which the Pantheon provides a famous example. Distinctions between materials, as well as between accuracy and illusion, are deliberately blurred in Piranesi’s imaginative cartographical reconstruction.
This map is also part of an elaborate system of verbal, indexical references. In tracing that system of references, John Wilton-Ely has emphasized the order that it establishes, observing that the index allows the small views that fill most of the first volume of the Antichità Romane to be “readily placed within a larger context” while through the system of cross-references “the maze of isolated fragments are explained in relation to one another” (1978, 51). For Heather Hyde Minor, however, the complexity of Piranesi’s system of cross-references threatens to undermine the order that it seeks to establish. The numbers in this map—rendered here as hyperlinks—refer first to a typeset index found on this volume’s preceding pages. There, Piranesi then in many cases points readers to his images in the four volumes of the Antichità Romane by indicating the numbers of their plates and figures. The pages of this volume set out, for Minor, “a wild course,” a journey that “all but the most intrepid and dogged lovers of antiquity would give up on.” (2015, 35). The hyperlinked references shared here are intended to convey both the order and the chaos that Piranesi’s cartographic systems create. (ZL, JB)
To see this image in the first volume of Le Antichità Romane, volume 1 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.