Many elements of the composition recall Piranesi’s Carceri d’invenzione [Imaginary Prisons]. Fallen wooden beams, cannons, ladders leading into darkness, impenetrable towers, and elevated drawbridges, turbulent clouds, as well as the thick and deeply etched lines are all prominent features of the Carceri (and can be seen here). Castel Sant’Angelo was of course an actual prison, not an imaginary one. However, Piranesi’s manipulation of light and perspective in the view evokes the dark, fantastical, and mysterious tone of the Imaginary Prisons. At the same time, the angel on the topmost tower of the fortress is illuminated by light, looking toward the bridge where prisoners were freed, and processions of the conclave would announce a new pope. The election of a pope was celebrated with a firework display called the girandola, showing a non-military use of the cannons in the foreground. The layers of architecture reflect the multiple histories and functions of the space: it was a tomb, papal residence, prison, citadel, meeting place for the conclave, and a place of spectacle. While the focus of the print may be its modern function as a fortress, Piranesi also captures the complicated web of memory exposed and contained in the tomb’s bricks and marble blocks, akin to Freud’s impression of the Castel Sant’Angelo as described in the previous essay. (ZL)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.