Throughout the Vedute di Roma, Piranesi’s combinations of image and text offer his audience different points of entry: we are of course invited to look first, but we are also urged to read, either by proceeding from an image’s annotations to its key or from the title, caption, and key to the image. Here, the caption provides historical details, while the annotations, like the visual composition, firmly situate the temple within contemporary street life. Scholars including Barbara Maria Stafford and Johanna Drucker have helped draw attention to graphical representations of knowledge, and Rose Marie San Juan has more specifically discussed the ways that the medium of print was used in illustrations of Rome to create new methods of “visual cognition” (140). In this image, Piranesi engages in these phenomena by using visual composition and verbal annotation—in caption and key—to present and contrast the historical layers of Rome. Reading the annotations as they are embedded within the image, Piranesi’s audience experiences the temple in its current moment and lived presence, but reading the caption, which stands separate from the image, we gain historical knowledge about what is now lost. Committed to conveying both historical information and contemporary detail, Piranesi also maintains their difference in his distinction between caption and annotation. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.