Filling the height of the plate, but neatly contained by its margin, this gate resembles a triumphal arch that celebrates the control of nature rather than the dominance over people. Piranesi vividly renders the rusticated style of the monument’s travertine, using sharp relief to create seemingly undulating surfaces of stone. People peek out from a door, draw water from the fountain, and gesture beside and, it seems, in tandem with, the annotation that points to Via Prenestina.
A complex intersection in antiquity, this site here becomes an intersection of different media. The text of the monument’s inscription, when joined with that of Piranesi’s etched caption, draws attention to the significance of inscription and print as methods of commemoration, preservation, and communication. In this image, the visual appearance of the heavily-shadowed and carefully rendered inscription reinforces an ambiguity that Renaissance antiquarians appreciated about inscriptions: the written word, whether inscribed or printed, is always visual as well as verbal (Barkan 27). If Piranesi’s vedute often ask to be experienced both verbally and visually, the dramatic detail, lengthy inscription, and substantial caption in this word-image composite make it a virtual assault on its beholders’ interpretive methods. Piranesi’s Italian caption, which includes a long title and key, condenses the Latin inscription and highlights its materiality, noting of the monument that “scolpito in esso il nome, di Claudio, che lo edificò, e di Vespasiano che lo restaurò.” As a piece of three-dimensional stone, the caption takes on illusionistic materiality, and Piranesi seems to reinscribe the construction and renovation of the aqueducts, arches, and gate into their natural setting. In this image, even with its magnificently legible inscription, Piranesi seems, though the content and appearance of his caption, to attend to the ways that inscriptions can call into question relationships between materiality and meaning (Bachner 4). Piranesi’s captions—engraved in copper but also inscribed into metal before being inked and printed—amplify such interrogations of media and historical interpretation. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.