Through dramatic chiaroscuro, Piranesi imbues this majestic yet decaying symbol of Imperial triumph with a heightened theatricality. This view of the facade of the Arch of Titus is in fact all about stark contrasts, enhanced by Piranesi's use of lighting effects, perspective, and gesture. The dark and rough hatching of the stone and inscription of the Arch pushes the monument into the foreground and provides a jarring foil to the ancient ruins that recede into the soft, hazy, and ethereal light of the forum in the background. Rendered in a dark, almost completely black ink, the curve of the arch as well as the sharp diagonal of the buttress on the left seem hollowed out by the light and texture of the paper. Barbara Maria Stafford has likened Piranesi's images to archaeological dissections; here, the buttress in particular looks as though it has been surgically cut, almost dissected, to expose the rough cut stone of the base (1991, 57-66). This exposed block, like a muscle or vein, hosts a shadowy actor, whose dramatic gesture creates another compositional axis.
Diagonals created by gesture in addition to alternating blocks of light and shadow create not only clear compositional boundaries but stylistic and topographical divisions as well. The crisp precision of the virtually pristine sixteenth-century Farenese Palace on the left, labeled number 1 in the key, is juxtaposed with the deteriorated and fragmented state of the ruins. Such stylistic differences draw a distinction between the ancient and modern topography of the forum. The perspective is skewed such that viewers can see, through the central Arch, the remains of what Piranesi attributed as the Golden House of Nero (which is now identified as the Baths of Maxentius). The artist asserted that the monument, along with the Arch of Titus, formed the ancient boundary of the forum which extended toward the foot of the Capitoline Hill, an argument he makes verbally in the annotation labeled 3 here and visually in an earlier view of the Arch. Comparing the two etchings, the sublime and dramatic style of the veduta above has been enhanced perhaps in order to appeal to the taste of grand tourists. Yet, the archeological argument is still present, as in many of the prints in the Views of Rome series, and is characteristic of Piranesi's unique approach to the genre.
To see this image in Veduta di Roma, vol 17 of Piranesi's Opere, click here.