This content was created by Jessica Atkins. The last update was by Jeanne Britton.
The Digital PiranesiMain MenuAboutThe Digital Piranesi is a developing digital humanities project that aims to provide an enhanced digital edition of the works of Italian illustrator Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778).Works and VolumesGenres, Subjects, and ThemesBibliographyGlossary
On the construction of the Tomb of Caecilia Metella, from Antiquities of Rome
12018-02-21T19:34:15-08:00Jessica Atkins5fb0e8186dcec967aad1f92bb6adab6877c8c308228496"Modo, col quale furono alzati i grossi Travertini, e gli altri Marmi nel fabbricare il gran Sepolcro di Cecilie Metella, oggi detto Capo di Bove," Antichita romane (Opere, vol 3)plain2018-02-22T15:19:41-08:00Jeanne Brittone120651dde677d5cf1fd515358b14d86eb289f11
12018-03-23T15:26:09-07:00On the Construction of the Tomb of Cecilia Metella48plain2023-04-11T13:35:59-07:00ornament, art, nature, travertine, tomb, engineering, reconstruction, imaginaryTitle: Modo, col quale furono alzati i grossi Travertini, e gli altri Marmi nel fabbricare il gran Sepolcro di Cecilia Metella, oggi detto Capo di Bove. Piranesi Archit(ectus). Dis(egnavit). et inc(idit). Text: Visitando io tutto giorno i Monumenti antichi di Roma, ed investigando ogni loro benche minuta parte, scoprii in que’ grossi macigni, de’quali sono costruiti, dei buchi quadrati, escavati a bella posta: in alcuni d’essi nel mezzo del piano disopra, come A; in altri nel lato o destro, o sinistro, come B. Quanto al buco scavato nel mezzo del piano di sopra, è cosa manifesta, che serviva per alzare il sasso sin, dove aveasi a porre in opera, mediante uno Stromento di ferro C, (eccone ancora i suoi Profili D) chiamato da Vitr(uvi)o Forfice, da altri Ulivella, introdotto, ed incastrato nel buco stesso, come nello Spaccato E: quale Stromento in oggi pure si mette in pratica. Ma qual’uso potesse avere l’altro buco, scavato nel lato, a cui non vedeasi corrispondere altro buco nel lato opposto, ove aggrappare si potesse il macigno per sollevarlo, riuscivami affatto ignoto, ed oscuro; ne so che sia stato a quest’ora da veruno penetrato. Tralle rovine del Sepolcro di Cecilia Metella, detto Capo di bove, mi venero sotto gli occhi alcuni Framm(en)ti di grossi Travertini, F, G, i quali mi scopersero ciò, che per si lungo tempo, da che mi trovo in Roma, non mi venne fatto di comprendere. Il Framm(en)to F ha un rialto a guisa di Bozza, nella stessa pietra lasciato ad arte, segnato H et simile ad I. Il Framm(en)to G ha una bozza, ed un buco scavato in mezzo alla stessa, marcato K et simile ad L; il qual buco è fondo sino alla superficie del Lato M, e corrisponde direttam(en)te al buco del Lato opposto N. È verisimile, che questi due Travertini non sieno stati posti in opera, o per lo meno in que’ corsi, ond è formata la superficie esterna del Mausoleo; e ciò può essere accaduto, o per natural difetto della Pietra, scoperto dopo lavorata, o per mancanza dello Scarpellino: in fatti l’uno d’essi appare spezzato da un capo. Per tanto, siccome io penso, ecco brevem(en)te l’uso de’ predetti Buchi, e delle Bozze. Osserviamo nello Spaccato O la piegatura, e profondità de’ Buchi, et il modo, con cui sono introdotti in essi gli Uncini P, i quali equilibrando il Macigno Q per mezzo della Fune R congiunta a cappio, raccomandata alla Bozza I, indi passata sotto gli Uncini, e ripassata ancora sotto se medesima in S, qualora il peso dalla parte della bozza la costrignesse a trascorrere, mettono in pronto il detto Macigno, per esser tirato su, posto il cappio al rampino della Taglia T al sito destinato. Quivi nello stesso modo si può facilm(en)te muovere, e rimuovere quante volte richiede il bisogno, sinche egregiam(en)te connetti cogli altri marmi: indi lasciato posare tanto disgiunto, quanto si possa levare dal buco l’Uncino V colle Leve, o Pali di ferro spignesi accosto. Dopo di che lo Scarpellino taglia le bozze, e pareggia le superficie. X Uncini di ferro di varia grandezza. Y Funi, o Cappj di varia lunghezza. Z Dimostrasi la Macchina, mediante la quale alzavansi li grossi Macigni. 1 Due Travi proporzionate ai pesi, che doveansi alzare, piantate a piramide, e mobili sopra un Piano di grossi tavoloni di legno, concatenati insieme a foggia di telaro; legate da capo da un Perno di ferro segn(a)to al quale raccomandavasi la Taglia 3. Fermato il Piano de’ sudd(et)ti tavoloni, o sia Piede della Macchina ad alcuni Travertini, piantati quà, e là nel masso, per legare i corsi delle Scaglie; e data alle Travi sufficiente pendenza, e sporto fuori del Muro, sicchè possano ricevere comodam(en)te il Sasso 4 colle Funi 5 assicuravansi. Alzato il Sasso col mezzo della Fune 6 delle Taglie, 7, 8 e del Mulinello 9, sino al piano 10, tiravá(n)si medianti le Funi 11 le Travi per il capo indietro tanto, quanto il Sasso potesse posare sul detto Piano, ove usate le predette diligenze di farlo ben connettere univasi agli altri Sassi del Corso 12. Da ciò può dedursi, che gli Antichi sopra ogni cosa studiassero la facilità d’innalzare simili enormi Macigni, per costruire Fabbr(ich)e corrispond(en)ti alle loro grandi idee, e di perpetua durabilità, lasciandole tal volta rozze, e senza Ornam(en)to. In vero molte sene veggono di tal fatta, ma sì massiccie, e sode, che sembrano fatte più dalla Natura, che dall’Arte.Title: The means by which the large Travertines and other Marble Blocks were lifted to build the grand tomb of Cecilia Metella, now called Capo di Bove. Designed and engraved by the Architect Piranesi. Text: Visiting the ancient monuments of Rome every day, and examining all their most minute parts, I discovered square holes in those giant stones, intentionally carved out, and in some of these stones, the holes were carved in the middle of upper level, as in A and in others in the side, on the right, or left, as in B. As for the hole carved in the middle of the upper section, it is clear that it served to raise the stone until the point where it is set through the Instrument made of iron C (and here they are additionally displayed in profile D) called by Vitruvius ‘Forfice,’ and by others ‘Ulivella,’ introduced, and inserted into the hole itself, as in the cross section E: an Instrument which is in fact still in use today. But what could have been the function of the other hole, carved in the side, to which I saw no other corresponding hole on the opposite side, where one could grab to lift the boulder, [but the purpose of the lateral hole] seems to me to be unknown, and obscure; nor do I know that anyone has understood its function to this day. Among the ruins of the Sepulcher of Cecilia Metella, called Capo di Bove, some fragments of large Travertines, F, G, appeared before my eyes, and they revealed what, for such a long time, I could never understand, since I have found myself in Rome. The Fragment, F has a raised part in the form of a Boss, in the same stone, the raised part is left deliberately, labeled H and similar to I. The fragment G has a projecting stone, and a hole carved in the middle of the same, marked K and similar to L; that hole is as deep as the surface of the Side M and corresponds directly to the hole on the other Side N. It is likely that these two Travertines were not set down, or at least in those courses where the outer surface of the Mausoleum was formed; and this may have happened, either due to a natural defect of the Stone, discovered after work had begun, or due to lack of the Chisel: in fact, one of them appears to be broken on one side. Therefore, as I see it, here is a brief description of the function of the aforementioned Holes, and of the projecting Stones. We observe, in the section O, the profile and depth of the Holes, and the way in which the grappling hooks P are inserted into them, which balance the large block of stone Q by means of a rope R knotted into a loop, which is fitted around the projecting stone I, from there passed under the grappling Hooks, and twisted under and around itself in S, in the case where the weight of the part of the projecting stone forces it to slide, they put the large rock in position, to be pulled up, [with the] the noose on the grappling hook of the Pulley T so as to position it in the desired place.There, in the same way one can easily move, and take away [the block] as many times as required, until it most nobly connects with the other blocks of marble:from there, one can leave it disjointed, as soon as the hook V is removed from the hole with the Levers, or iron Poles, pulling them together. After which the Chisel cuts the projecting stone, and evens out the sides. X iron Hooks of various size. Y Ropes, or Loops of various lengths. Z Demonstrates the Device by which the large blocks were raised. 1 Two beams proportioned to weights, that should be raised, hammered into the ground so as to form a pyramid, leveled on large pieces of wood, chained together in the shape of a loom; tied to the top of the iron Pivot labeled 2 to which the Pulley 3 is fitted. With the aforementioned large pieces of wood secured, that is the Base of the Device to some Beams, set here and there in the mass of the tomb, in order to join the courses of the Slings; and when the Beams are sufficiently inclined, and protruding out from the Wall, in such a way that they can comfortably hold the Rock 4 secured with the Ropes 5. The Rock lifted by means of the Ropes 6 of the Pulleys 7, 8 and of the Swivel 9 until the level 10 pulling it through the Ropes 11, the Beams with the top underneath, as far as the Rock can rest on the aforementioned Level, where the aforementioned diligences are used to make it connect in a unified way to the other Rocks of Course 12. From all of which one can deduce that the Ancients, above all things, studied how to raise similar enormous blocks in order to construct Buildings equal to their grand ideas and of everlasting durability, leaving them at the time rough and without Ornament. In truth, one can see many of them made in this way, but they are so massive, and so dense, that they seem to be made more by Nature, than by Art.“[T]he Ancients…raised enormous blocks in order to construct Buildings equal to their grand ideas and of everlasting durability...but, they are so massive, and so dense, that they seem to be made more by Nature, than by Art.”
Marveling at the ancient tomb of Cecilia Metella, Piranesi asks himself and his readers: by what means did the Romans build such a monumental structure? How did they achieve such awesome architectural feats a millennia ago, the remains of which continued to define the Roman cityscape just as they do today? In the print, Piranesi recounts how he visited the the ruins of Ancient Rome “every day, examining all of their most minute details” to uncover the mystery of the tomb's construction. Through a combination of archeology, architectural theory, and ancient sources, Piranesi asserts that he will show his readers how the massive stones of the tomb were raised, starting with a most curious element: the holes seen in A and B, a feature “not yet understood by anyone to this day.” Moving through the image by following the letters in each section of the print, the process of construction unfolds, brought to life by Piranesi’s narrative in the text below.
Piranesi hypothesizes that tools such as those shown in C, D, and X were fitted into the holes, attached to hooks through a rope, and tied to a large pulley (seen at the center and upper right of the image). Various types of tools seem to occupy every section of the print, foregrounding their importance to Piranesi’s ideas. Indeed, historian Peter N. Miller argues that the use of Roman tools was the “central issue” of the print, further stating that “while the tools were inanimate: it was the caption that provided the animation” (2007, Miller, 132). We have sought to animate this process in the video below.
“If we consult the following print in the series here, Piranesi exhibits the tools as though in a museum case: small and large, in profile and different perspectival views, from ancient times as described by Vitruvius to the Renaissance used by illustrious architect Filippo Brunelleschi, to Piranesi’s own day. Such a visual history demonstrates how the ingenuity of the Romans endured into contemporary architectural practice, supporting Piranesi’s broader arguments about the superiority of Roman architecture over that of the Greeks.
The serial effect of the multiple prints in addition to the display of details made possible only by the visual medium, persuade readers that Piranesi’s hypothesis is correct. By engaging in this type of referentiality within and across prints, Piranesi forms a “visual argument” (Kusukawa, 3). that seeks to enhance the technical, even empirical, quality of the prints, more akin to an engineering treatise or even a modern instructional manual. Though viewers might be lured by the technical language of the prints, they are are largely a product of Piranesi’s imagination. Yet, does recapturing the past not always involve a bit of conjecture? Miller convincingly argues that Piranesi uses “his imagination as a tool of the most concrete reconstruction” (Miller, 128). Piranesi’s type of thought experiment gives us a unique view into how an eighteenth-century architect interpreted and recreated the past through incomplete yet everlasting ruins, made not by nature, but by the art of the ancients. (ZL)
To see this image in Antichita Romane, volume 3 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.