The Digital Piranesi

Roma, Cities of the World (Civitates Orbis Terrarum), Georg Braun and Franz Hogenberg, 1572-1617

This map of Rome comes from a colorful six-volume atlas that represents 475 cities. Pictorial maps, drawn from an oblique aerial perspective, were common during the Renaissance. The bird’s eye perspective presents the entire city in one glance, and the gesture of the fashionable figure on the right suggests that the city is displayed for a viewer’s pleasure. Braun and Hogenberg stated that, “by relying on the subtle sense of vision, … we offer the reader views of cities … that give a much clearer idea than one could obtain from words alone.” This map, like the others in this digital gallery, includes a key identifying monuments such as the Colosseum (37), Pantheon (57), and Castel Sant’Angelo (T). Other than these monuments, however, the architecture lacks any identifying features. While Piranesi’s precise maps resemble archeological or topographical surveys, these maps all suggest that a visual, imaginary depiction of Rome’s architecture and history is more powerful, effective, and accurate than a verbal description. 

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