The Digital Piranesi

Plate III

In Plate III, for the first time, we find ourselves in a completely interior space with no visible exit. Nonetheless, the architecture gives us hints that we are still at the top of what will be a long voyage into the entrails of Piranesi's underground. At the top of the illustration, the groin vaulted ceilings indicate there are no upper spaces to go, but only an indeterminable descent. Also in this plate, we can see the debut of Piranesi's port-like structures including, in this etching, the round tower and the sentry boxes. It's also in this plate that a recurrent image in the series appears for the first time: the people hanging cloths on the parapet of catwalks.  

Most of the illustrations of the Carceri resemble colossal port complexes, a familiar environment that connected Piranesi to his hometown Venice. In these spaces, Piranesi combined different platforms, sentry boxes, lanterns, bollards and mooring rings with vestiges of ships, contributing to the perception of the spaces as abandoned, decommissioned ports where, nevertheless, water is absent. In the matter of fact, the environment is not only dry but completely barren. There is not even the most remote sign of life besides the tiny phantasmagoric human figures. No hint of any kind of vegetation, nor fungi, nor even lichen: nothing flourishes in the hostile atmosphere that Piranesi created. The dryness of the spaces reflected, in a provocative way, Piranesi’s apprehension about the lack of imagination of the cultural rulers in promoting the arts, the architecture, and the ethics. For Piranesi, the well of the imagination of some of his contemporaries was dry.

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