The Digital Piranesi

View of the Milvian Bridge over the Tiber Two Miles outside Rome

Drawing viewers to a vantage point almost beneath the Milvian Bridge, Piranesi creates a stupendous structure, cast in bold recession, that is surrounded by architectural restorations and contemporary activity. Dark shadows and sharp contrasts in the foreground and [to the left] gradually fade along the linear procession of the bridge towards the background, where only the ruins of a wooden bridge carry any vivid contrast against an indistinct background. A view of similar visual drama in the Campus Martius volume imagines the bridge before the restorations that are twice noted here with “A.” The view above of course firmly positions the bridge in the eighteenth century, with other annotations indicating what is absent in the Campus Martius image: past restorations, support systems, and the medieval tower. While our eyes are led along the steep diagonal, they are also distracted by the staffage figures throughout the image, whose outstretched arms, engaged in labor and especially gestural motion, produce a somewhat chaotic, kinetic energy. One figure, who stands in the far right of the foreground, leans back to indicate, it seems, the banner upon which Piranesi’s caption appears. This figure’s face is partially cut off by the margin of the image. By contrast, the statue of Saint John of Nepomuk (1345-1393) in the upper left atop the bridge, like the flag near the center, punctures the margin. With these compositional and gestural lines competing for our attention, directing us to consider daily labor, to consult the caption, or to observe the boundaries of the image, viewers are compelled to enter this view in an active stance, deliberately choosing each visual path. (JB)

To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.

This page has paths:

This page references: