The Digital Piranesi

View of the Temple of Camenae

Presented here rather modestly, this monument also features in one of Piranesi’s most complex and polemical images. What Piranesi names the Temple of the Camenae is now considered to be the Tomb of Annia Regilla. Within the Didot edition of the Views of Rome, this image serves as a natural transition between the two previous views of the Tempio di Bacco and the following view of the Grotto of Egeria: its annotations point not to this structure’s architectural details—the console of the windows, or the pediment and conch on the façade—but instead to those two distant structures. Despite limited light and a wide shadow from an indefinite source, the texture of the monument’s façade is dramatically detailed, with the brickwork that has fallen away near the roof revealing an almost living irregularity beneath. Piranesi includes botanical growth on its roof, which almost revives the monument’s formerly wooded surroundings that his caption describes. On the building’s left, the window appears to be illuminated from within, perhaps as an acknowledgement of its earlier significance in another image.

Piranesi includes a portion of a similar view in one of his most complex layered images, a study of Roman architectural details compared with Greek examples from [Julien-David] Le Roy. In this image, from Della Magnificenza ed Architettura de’ Romani (1761), he includes numerous examples of Roman architectural detail, noting the locations of each; he indicates that this monument is in the area outside of Rome known as the Caffarella (today the Caffarella Park), which is outside the Porta Latina and bordered by the Appian Way.
He calls particular attention to the monument’s columns and especially its window, which he shows in a small veduta (see close-up, left) and in orthographic projection (close-up, top right). 
His visual argument in the image from Della Magnificenza, and in that work as a whole, is that Roman architecture displays its own splendor apart from any Greek influence. This chosen example is has Greek affiliations, though, as the tomb of Appia Annia Regilla, the Roman wife of the prominent Greek Herodes Atticus, and with traditional Greek fretwork along the façade. His emphasis on its other details illuminates their grand ornamentation.
Heather Hyde Minor has observed that this image from Della Magnificenza engages in a practice of visual citation by isolating specific individual architectural details and pointing viewers to their locations (2015, 125). By contrast, in this view of 1773, Piranesi emphasizes situation over citation, favoring dramatic shading, natural overgrowth, and the texture of gradual decay over his aesthetic battle against Le Roy from the previous decade. (JB)

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

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