The Digital Piranesi

View of the Temple of Bacchus

Each volume of the Views of Rome can be experienced as an imaginary itinerary. Just as the second volume of the Views of Rome (volume 17 in the Didot edition) concludes outside the city, most notably with images from Hadrian’s Villa, this volume now heads beyond the city’s gates, where the subjects of its last nine images stand. Except the Portico di Ottavia (itself one of the gates to Rome), each monument is noted for its distance from the city. Passing through the Porta di San Sebastiano along Rome’s former southern boundary, Piranesi takes his viewers to the Temple of Bacchus before proceeding, in the following images, to what is now the Caffarella Park, the city of Cori, and elsewhere. Here, two miles outside of Rome, Piranesi draws attention to the temple’s state of preservation: it is, the caption notes, “il più intero di questa forma che sia rimaso a Roma ai giorni nostri, sì nell’esterno che nell’interno” [the most intact of this form that remains in Rome today, both on the exterior and the interior]. The image, though, foregrounds ruin, with heavy shading drawing viewers’ eyes to the deep gash in the façade, and a visual boundary of rubble, including a bust and another fragment that interrupts the caption, fragmenting the word “Tempio” [Temple]. Individual annotations point out sections of repair, most prominently the walls between the columns of the pronaos, which Piranesi specifies were built under the restorations by Urban VIII and his family, the Barberini, in the 1630s.  

Taken with the following image of the temple’s interior, Piranesi offers two perspectives on this ancient temple. In his Raccolta de’ Tempj Antichi (1780) included as volume five in the Didot edition of the Opere, Francesco Piranesi devotes a total of eight plates to this monument, including a conjectural elevation of its original state (below).
(Following later theories about the identity of the temple, he calls it the Tempio dell’ Onore e della Virtù fuori di Porta Capena, which is now considered to be a different temple of which no remains survive.) Among Francesco’s plates is an image of the ancient altar in which the inscription is visible (“Altar or Table from the Temple of Bacchus”).  

Giambattista, by contrast, does not duplicate this inscription visually in the following image of the interior (“Veduta interna dell’antico Tempio di Bacco”). Instead, the annotation in this image renders the altar’s text in ways that characterize his persistent combination of visual and verbal evidence. Among the temple’s intact details, he notes that a Greek inscription survives on the ancient altar, duplicates the Greek in a tidy upright script, and offers a Latin translation in a similar upright lettering. His own Italian text simulates manuscript with its italicized slant. Similar visual differentiation between languages and texts appears in his view of the Temple of the Sibyl
Piranesi cites the inscription verbally rather than depicting it visually, as Francesco does in his etching of the altar itself. Giambattista’s choices, in this and the following image, indicate the centrality of his own written texts to his presentation of the city and its ruins. The monk who seems, in the following view of the temple’s interior, to read closely on the altar might demonstrate Piranesi’s own dedication to careful visual examination of either textual or visual evidence. (JB)

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

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