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In this view, titled “Piramide de C. Cestio” [Pyramid of Caius Cestius], a seemingly massive structure, lengthened by a vantage point near ground-level, is signaled by a gesturing human figure who reclines in front of the image’s informative key. The pyramid appears here larger than life, filling the full height of the image. The gesturing figure who seems to recline in front of the illusionistic key offers a locus for considering the relationship between word and image. While John Wilton-Ely has argued that this key’s appearance “serves to minimalize human identity in the gesturing figure placed in front of it” (37), the key and the reclining man are also equalized in their shared act of gesturing, of pointing either to the monument or to the key. Within the text-image composites of Piranesi’s annotated views, this image additionally foregrounds a different combination of visual experience and linguistic utterance. Here, a man who points with his finger reclines in front of and in fact interrupts a key that itself points, with annotations, to the monument. In this doubling of pointing gestures, both bodily and verbal, the immensity of the pyramid combines with the specificity of the key’s contents—both the pyramid’s physical features and its built environment, details of archaeological rediscovery and restoration. Jeanne Zarucchi has called attention to the titles of each of the Views of Rome, observing that Piranesi’s “views of” and “other views of” key monuments often suggest different visual and cultural perspectives of the same structure. Perhaps the title of this image, which does not, like the majority of the views, include the word “veduta,” can be seen in a new way. In light of the emphatic markers of the pointing figure in the foreground of the key, this image need not be titled a “view of” the Pyramid of Caius Cestius but might instead, by virtue of its emphatic gestures, aspire to a near equivalence with the monument itself.
To see this image in Vedute di Roma, vol 17 of Piranesi's Opere, click here.