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View of the Rear Façade of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
Veduta della Facciata di dietro della Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore
Title: Veduta della Facciata di dietro della Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore Key: 1. Cappella di Sisto V. 2 Cappella di Paolo V. 3. Obelisco ritrovato fra le rovine del Mausoleo d’Augusto, e fatto quivi trasportare ed erigere da Sisto V. 4. Villa Montalto Signature: Giov(anni). Battista Piranesi Architetto dis(egnavit). ed inc(idit). Signature 2: Presso l’Autore a Strada Felice vicino alla Trinità de’ Monti
Title: View of the rear facade of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore Key: Chapel of Sixtus V. 2. Chapel of Paul V. 3. Obelisk found among the ruins of the Mausoleum of Augustus, and transported and erected there by Sixtus V. 4. Villa Montalto Signature: Designed and engraved by the Architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi Signature 2: Published by the Author in the Strada Felice in Palazzo Tomati near Trinità de Monti.
This second exterior view of Santa Maria Maggiore, in which dramatic visual contrasts of perspective, light, and composition stage confrontations between order and disorder, ancient and modern, and nature and civilization, is more characteristic of Piranesi’s style than his etchings of the façade and interior of the same basilica. The activities of Roman street life frame the composition, and gesturing figures, dark shadows, and crumbling ruins create a space of dynamic movement in the foreground, where viewers confront the daily chaos of the piazza. A half-cut figure theatrically gestures toward the bustling street on the right.
A wide array of characters hang their wash, drink from the fountain, sell their wares, point to the monuments, and rest on the crumbling ancient fragments. The most prominent activity occurs at the center: figures cut, collect, and tie large branches of wood with rope. Unruly and knotted, the central tree represents a nature untamed. The thorny and spectral edges of the large trunks split the composition in half and provide both a visual and thematic opposition to the regimented classical style of Renaissance architecture. In the close-up below, the contrast between rectilinear lines of the pilasters and spidery sketchiness of the tree branches is even more evident.