View of the Bridge and Castel Sant’ Angelo
By identifying Saint Peter’s Cathedral in the Vatican, the Papal Palace, and the Holy Spirit Hospital, the annotations in this view of the Bridge and Castel Sant’Angelo orient the viewer within the city. But in the image’s first annotation, Piranesi exposes the city’s material layers of history in ways that resemble Freud’s own account of human memory. It describes the removal of materials and remains from Hadrian’s Tomb before the structure was reshaped as the Papal fortress. Under Constantine the Great, columns were removed and later used in the Papal Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls, and Hadrian’s ashes were transported, inside a metallic pinecone and along with metallic peacocks, to the Belvedere Garden Court. The contemporary human activity he portrays complements this history. As Katherine Wentworth Rinne observes, scavengers for valuables—some of which littered the Tiber for a millennium—are visible in the foreground of this image (24-5). Granted licenses to search for metal, stone, and other refuse, cercatore del fiume [river seekers] are shown performing a modern, lowly version of the removal and reuse that Piranesi’s caption describes.
In Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud posits Rome not as “a human dwelling-place, but a mental entity with just as long and varied a past history: that is, in which nothing once constructed had perished, and all the earlier stages of development had survived alongside the latest.” “The observer,” he continues, “would need merely to shift the focus of this eyes, perhaps, or change his position, in order to call up a view of either the one or the other” (1930, 17-8). While Piranesi’s images linger in the memory, his annotations and human figures bring the buried past into the lived present. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.