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).VolumesBibliographyGlossary and Abbreviations
Pyramid of Caius Cestius
12019-11-11T16:57:45-08:00Avery Freemanb9edcb567e2471c9ec37caa50383522b90999cba228491from Volume 17 of Giovanni Battista Piranesi's Opereplain2019-11-11T16:57:45-08:00Internet ArchivedatapiranesiRescan_vol17_0265.jpgAvery Freemanb9edcb567e2471c9ec37caa50383522b90999cba
12018-11-07T17:36:08-08:00View of the Tomb of Caius Cestius44Veduta del Sepolcro di Cajo Cestioplain2020-09-06T11:53:04-07:00Architecture (Ancient) Exterior View Vedute Vedute di Roma Ruins Pyramid Gate; Text under the image Two pages Horizontal Orientation; Exterior Pyramid Gate Wall Porta San Paolo Aurelian Walls; Tuff Travertine; Brick-faced concrete; Exterior perspective; Axial perspective? ; Perspective, axial ; Exterior ; Human; Citizens; Citizen ; Tourists; Tourist; Beggars; Beggar ; Men (male humans); Trousers ; Breeches (trousers); Jackets (garments) Hat; Rags; Sitting Leaning; Mingling; Walking; Kneeling; Gesturing/Pointing; Shrubs; Sky; Rock (inorganic material); TreesTitle: Veduta del Sepolcro di Cajo Cestio Key: 1. Porta San Paolo 2. Mura di Roma Signature: Presso l’Autore a Strada Felice nel Palazzo Tomati vicino alla Trinità de’ Monti Signature 2: Piranesi del(ineavit). inc(idit).Title: View of the Tomb of Caius Cestius Key: 1. Porta San Paolo 2. Walls of Rome Signature: Published by the Author in the Strada Felice in Palazzo Tomati near Trinità de Monti. Signature 2: Designed and engraved by Piranesi. One of only two surviving pyramids in Rome, the Pyramid of Caius Cestius—here called, in Italian, the Sepulchre of Cajo Cestio—was built c. 18-12 BCE for Gaius Cestius Epulo. The subject of three views (in Views of Rome and Antichità Romane, v. 3) and a few architectural studies (including a bird’s eye view and a cut-away view in Antichità Romane, v. 3), the pyramid of Caius Cestius held an “obsessive attraction” for Piranesi (Wilton-Ely 1988, 33). It appears in this veduta as one element among many. The ground, built up over centuries, ascends from the base of the pyramid to the Wall of Rome that Piranesi notes in the key. Trees to the left and right emphasize the pyramid’s natural setting. This is the first of the large vedute devoted to this monument, completed in 1755, and it forms a notable contrast with the second, completed in the following year. This image emphasizes the function rather than the shape of the monument: the title casts the image as a view of the tomb [sepolcro]. Surrounded by diminished human figures that are engaged in speaking, gesturing, and, in one case, apparent contemplation with downcast eyes, the pyramid is spotted with delicate foliage in this rendering. Dwarfed by the height of the image, the pyramid—which is in fact rather small—appears enlarged by the small human figures. The monument’s inscriptions are sketchy and incomplete. The upper inscription, which appears on both the pyramid’s east and west sides, reads “C CESTIUS L F POB EPULO PR TR PL VII VIR EPULONUM” [Gaius Cestius Epulo, son of Lucius, of the Poblilian district, chief magistrate, tribune of the people, one of seven priests in charge of public banquets in honor of Jupiter and other religious festivals]. The lower inscription, only on the east side, is legible on the left but does not include the date, on the right: “INSTAVRATVM AN DOMINI MD CLXIII” [Restored in 1663]. During these restorations, by Pope Alexander VII, the two columns, noted in Piranesi’s key to the following image, were discovered and placed in their original locations. What this image might lack in the historical details of archaeological reconstruction, the following image makes up for in its detailed key, which is placed inside its visual frame. (JB)
To see this image in Vedute di Roma, vol 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.
12018-11-07T17:39:14-08:00Pyramid of Caius Cestius12Piramide di Cajo Cestioplain2020-09-21T13:24:30-07:00Title: Piramide di Caio Cestio 1. Terreno sgombrato d’intorno alla Piramide sotto il Pontificato d’Alessandro VII. 2. Porta aperta di quel tempo nella Piramide. 3. Colonne ritrovate nello sgombro e riposte nell’antica positura. 4. Mura di Roma. 5. Torri della Porta di San Paolo. Signature: Presso l’autore Signature 2: Piranesi F(ecit).Title: Pyramid of Caius Cestius Key: 1. Excavated terrain from around the Pyramid under the Pontificate of Alexander VII. 2. Door in the Pyramid that was open at that time 3. Columns found in the excavation and put in their ancient position again. 4. Walls of Rome. 5. Towers of the Porta di San Paolo. Signature: Published by the author Signature 2: Made by Piranesi.
In this view, titled “Piramide de C. Cestio” [Pyramid of Caius Cestius], a seemingly massive structure, lengthened by a vantage point near ground-level, fills the full height of the image. Piranesi indicates the elevated ground level of the city, with its ancient level revealed at the base of the monument. The key, which describes this excavated earth as “Terreno sgombrato,” twice uses a form of the verb “sgombrare,” obsolete even in Piranesi’s day. Meaning “to clear out” or “to unencumber,” it lends an additional layer of antiquarianism to his description of the archaeological discovery of the two columns, which have, as the key further explains, been restored to their original positions at the pyramid’s corners.
Absorbed by the wall of the ancient city, which is indicated by numbered captions to its left and right, the pyramid marks the boundary of Rome. Piranesi’s etching techniques also emphasize a boundary between nature and culture, with the dramatic, erratic chiaroscuro of the trees and foliage on the right sharply contrasting with the gentle, linear shading and slight plant growth on the surface of the pyramid. The dramatic shading extends to the expansive banderol that serves as the image caption, in front of which a gesturing figure seems to recline. This figure is set off against the white of the banderol and at least twice the size of the men who surround the pyramid’s door, which the key explains was opened during the excavations under Alexander VII. With this visual emphasis, this figure summons a consideration of the relationship that Piranesi persistently reimagined 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” (1978, 37), the key and the reclining man are also equalized in their shared act of gesturing. 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, the surrounding wall, and the excavated earth. In this doubling of pointing gestures that are 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 Piranesi’s titles, observing that his “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 notably does not include the word “veduta,” extends from its emphatic gestures so as to suggest a near equivalence with the monument itself. (JB, ZL)
To see this image in Vedute di Roma, vol 17 of Piranesi's Opere, click here.