While the vantage point grants a broad, expansive scope, looking closely yields copious detail: gnarled human figures lurk in nearly every archway; tricorns in the foreground signal wealthy tourists; vines hang from arches against the negative space of the sky. If the vantage point exaggerates what remains, the captions itemize what is lost, cataloging evidence of fire damage (E) and banners that were extended over the top level (F, G, H). As another annotation points out, each of the arches bears a Roman numeral that indicated who could enter, from senators and knights to plebians, women, and slaves. Piranesi’s key begins by noting the arches of the “prim’Ordine” or first level (in the Tuscan order, a Roman version of the Doric), through which “il popolo” enter and ascend to their seats (A). As in the following view of the Colosseum, emphasizes social hierarchy (Zorach 119) and the connection between the architectural orders of the structure and the social orders of its visitors. At odds with the disorder of ruin, wild plant growth, and the human life depicted outside its walls, the Colosseum in this image and its accompanying text conveys the long-standing idea that the orders of architecture parallel those of social rank (Tzonis and Lefaivre 43). Expanding the visual scope of a realistic veduta and marshalling the genre’s informative captions for a commentary on social order, Piranesi creates with this annotated image a visual and verbal testament to exaggerated solidity and enforced hierarchy. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.