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View of the Colosseum (2 of 2)
Veduta dell'anfiteatro Flavio, detto il Colosseo
Title: VEDUTA DELL’ANFITEATRO FLAVIO DETTO IL COLOSSEO Key: A Mancano i Gradi, e le Sostruzioni B, che reggevano i detti Gradi. C Manca la Volta, sopra cui vi era il Podio, ove sedevano i Consoli, il Senato, i Sacerdoti, e le Vergini Vestali, le quali stavano dirimpetto al Pretorio. D Sedeva l’Ordine Equestre. E Manca la Loggia, o Pulvinare per l’Imperatore e sua Corte. F Gradi, di dove scendeva l’Imperatore Tito dalle sue Terme. Key 2: G. I Soldati Pretoriani erano quì disposti, e ne’passaggi. H Sedeva la Gioventù nobile co’loro Pedagoghi, ed altri attinenti ai Collegj, e Persone di rango. K Sedevano le Donne. L Scale per salir sopra a legar i Canapi per situar la Tenda. M Cappellette, e Croce nel mezzo, e Chiesa moderna. N Manca la Circonferenza esterna. O Avanzi di Stuchi lavorati a grottesco. Signature: Cav(alier). Piranesi F(ecit).
Title: View of the Flavian Amphitheatre, called the Colosseum A Lacking the Stairs and Internal Structures B, that held up said Stairs C Lacking the Vault, above which there was the Podium, where the Consuls, the Senate, the Priests, and the Vestal Virgins were seated, who were in front of the Praetor D The Equestrian Order was seated here. E Lacking the Loggia, or platform, for the Emperor and his Court F Stairs, where the Emperor Titus descended from his Baths Key 2: G. The Praetorian Guard was positioned here and in the passageways H The noble Youths with their tutors, and others associated with the Colleges, and Persons of rank. K The Women were seated here. L Stairs to go above [to the upper levels] to tie the Ropes to position the Banner M Little chapels, and the Cross in the middle, and the modern Church. N Lacking the exterior walls O Remains of the stucco decorated with grotesques Signature: Made by the Cavalier Piranesi.
Ascending from the worm’s-eye view of the previous image to a bird’s-eye view, this veduta, produced two decades later, presents an imaginary angle for the eighteenth-century citizen on a structure that is nearly impossible to depict. Indeed, locating the Colosseum’s intact wall in the background rather than the foreground produces a “perspectival distortion” that creates “the impression of a perfect circle” (Zorach 118) and suggests that the amphitheater is “beyond representation” (Furlong 112). This distortion is also a combination of three architectural genres—elevation, section, and plan (Wilton-Ely 1988, 44). The distorted scale, which shrinks human figures to “ant-like ciphers,” evokes “the drama of the sublime” (Wilton-Ely 1996, 172). While Piranesi’s depictions of ruins often celebrate the natural growth that covers them, and in spite of the astoundingly prolific botanical variety within the Colosseum, it here resembles a giant open crater, lifeless and deserted (Bacou 37) or perhaps “an extinct volcano, ... an eruption of the building genius of the Romans” (Scott 249). If natural growth is excised from this impossible vantage point, abundant annotations lead viewers’ eyes to the image’s trompe-l’œil captions. As such this image dramatically demonstrates an assessment of Piranesi’s works in general, which “defied the general cultural trend toward separating the informative from the imaginative” (Stafford 1991, 98).
At the center of the image is a Christian cross, and within the Colosseum is, as Piranesi’s caption indicates, a modern church. The full title of the image, “Veduta dell’anfiteatro Flavio detto il Colosseo,” distinguishes between the ancient and contemporary name of its subject. In a similar way, the focus and possibly even the appearance of the captions in this image emphasize imperial rather than Christian Rome. They appear on illusionistic scrolls, which, uncommon for Piranesi’s captions in the Vedute di Roma, suggest imperial proclamations. From the image’s domineering perspective down onto the amphitheater, viewers are encouraged to master the past through information. While Piranesi uses illusions of perspective and trompe-l’œil to heighten the Colosseum’s unquestionable display of imperial might, the numerous annotation markers also break the illusions of the image’s visual foundations. After the geometric regularity and expansive scope of this and the previous depiction of the Colosseum, the following view presents a radically different perspective, both visually and conceptually. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.