View of the Ponte Salario
John Wilton-Ely observed that this image seems, at first glance, to resemble but in fact diverges significantly from a view by Piranesi’s mentor Giuseppe Vasi (1710-1782). In his Delle magnificenze di Roma antica e moderna, Vasi provides what seems to be “a more faithful if pedestrian record” (below). In Piranesi’s view, the heavily-shaded rubble that crowds the bridge’s entrance and descends towards the river blurs the distinction between architecture and nature that is strictly maintained in Vasi’s bright and expansive view.
Piranesi’s view also differs in the visual and verbal presentation of detail—surface textures are distinguished by evident differences in shape and texture and identified in his second and third annotations. “Where Vasi’s building is a picturesque encounter of little consequence on one of the consular roads to Rome,” Wilton-Ely writes, “Piranesi’s has become an eloquent symbol of Roman engineering genius” (1988, 36). As in Piranesi’s other views of bridges, his preferences for sunken viewpoints, imposing architectural spaces, and sharp diagonals are here on dramatic display. In this volume, the previous etching is also taken from a low vantage point that affords a view up into the arches of the Ponte Molle and casts the length of the bridge in a sharp recession. In the fourth volume of the Antichità Romane, views of the Ponte Sant’Angelo, the Ponte Fabrizio, and the Ponte Ferrato share these visual features.
This view in particular, especially as compared to Vasi’s, indicates Piranesi’s creative approach to both the genres of the landscape view and the architectural study and the aesthetic categories of the picturesque and the sublime. The view of a landscape from an elevated position is often associated with social or political power. While Vasi’s view does convey the softness and delicacy of the picturesque, its vantage point also evokes this kind of power for both artist and viewer. Piranesi, though, blurs the boundaries between both nature and art on one hand and, on the other, the distinctions between the landscape view and the architectural study. He takes the low vantage point and sense of confinement associated with the picturesque in a new direction, harnessing its perspective in order to impose the sublimity of Roman architecture, in all its magnificence and detail, on the audiences for his views. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.