The Digital Piranesi

View of the Dining Room of Nero's Golden House (1 of 2)

Sketchily rendered with shallow hatching, the looming coffered vaults of the Golden House of Nero (now considered the Basilica of Maxentius), provides a theatrical backdrop for the first of Piranesi’s three views of the site. Yet this perspective departs from the immersive encounter that Piranesi typically seeks to create between monument and beholder (as he does in the second view of the Golden House). What does appear in the beholder’s immediate visual space is not the most impressive part of the monument but rather its discarded fragments, trampled upon by goats, monks, beggars, and shepherds who are seemingly oblivious to their significance (Zarruchi, 377). Yet it is precisely these fragments that are of the most interest to Piranesi. The rubble creates a kind of “barricade” in which “the onlooker does not feel invited to ‘enter’ the image and visit the city in his mind, as is the case in the traditional vedute” (Verschaffel, 129). Through this inaccessibility, Piranesi seems to shift the attention of viewers to fragments that are, as the key asserts, pieces of archeological evidence. Based on the form and method of construction of the walls labeled “2,” Piranesi concludes that they provided structural support to the opposite hall from the dining rooms [“Muri, e piloni che reggevano la parte opposta del tablino”]. The large format of the Views of Rome afforded Piranesi with the space to render each element with unprecedented detail, elaborating upon the smaller view in the Antichità Romane. For example, viewers can see the individual bricks and ornamental scheme of the coffers of the supporting wall on the far left. These coffers are virtually identical to those in the three main vaults in the main structure, providing Piranesi and his viewers with visual confirmation that the fragments in the foreground also belong to the larger complex of the Golden House of Nero. This controversial claim, which departed from the contemporary designation of the vaults as the Temple of Peace, also motivates Piranesi’s focused analysis of a fragment in his third view of the monument. (ZL)

To see this image in Vedute di Roma, vol 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.
 

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