The Digital Piranesi

View of the Temple of Fortuna Virilis

As it is positioned in this volume of Piranesi’s Opere, this is the last image of a monument in central Rome. Following the view of the Temple of Cybele, it shows the same structure from a different angle, identifies it as the Temple of Vesta rather than the Temple of Cybele, and notes that it is consecrated as Santa Maria del Sole in the eighteenth century. The titlular subject of the image, however, is the Temple of Fortuna Virilis (or the Temple of Portunus), whose façade nearly fills the left half of the image as its Christian cross reaches towards the top margin. Giuiseppe Vasi’s view of the Forum Boarium (or “cattle market”) takes the opposite approach to the same two structures.
Piranesi’s view reverses Vasi’s orientation and many elements of composition, casting the Temple of Fortuna Virilis in sharp recession, blending foreground and middle ground, and rendering the entire scene in dramatic shading. By contrast, Vasi’s view balances the proportions of the two temples and is neatly divided into three equal segments of foreground, middle ground, and sky. It is also clean and open, with a broad central space devoted to the sunlit street between the ancient structures. The cart, people, and animals in the foreground are evenly spaced and clearly defined. Assembled tourists, marked by their tricorns and carefully poised walking-sticks, call attention to the Temple, which is otherwise shown with minimal detail and shading, the capitals of its Ionic columns suggested rather than specified.  

Piranesi’s image centers on the Ionic columns, and the angle compresses them into a small area and minimizes the space devoted to the engaged walls. (He also centers an image of various capitals on one of these columns in his Della Magnificenza ed Architettura de’ Romani.) Vasi’s annotations identify the visible structures in the image, but Piranesi points to ancient structures just beyond view, including the Cloaca Maxima, shown in relation to the Temple of Cybele in this view, and remains of the Caves of Cacus, a fire-breathing giant that terrorized the Aventine Hill, which is just barely visible in the view’s distant background. His annotations bring antiquity into the legible spaces of the print veduta, recasting this traditional and tourist genre as a venue for archaeological inquiry and knowledge production. The contrast with Vasi’s view of the same structures highlights Piranesi’s tendency for irregularity and dramatic contrast as well as his emphasis on the remnants of antiquity that lie beyond a single image’s scope.  (JB)

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

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