This engineering feat repeatedly drew Piranesi’s attention and some of his most inventive visual methods. In his Antichità Romane, this straightforward illustration emphasizes measurement. In the Vedute di Roma, his view of the Temple of Januspoints out the path to the Cloaca Maxima in an annotation. The Arch of Janus may have been constructed to mark the boundary that the drain created between the Palatine Hill (home to the early Romans) and the Quirinal Hill (thought to be home to the Sabines). Most strikingly, in Della Magnificenza ed Architettura de’ Romani, complex images in which paper seems to lie unfurled over the drain itself visualize the layered exposure of the drain’s buried details, as the medium of paper seems to enact the effort of archaeology. Compositionally, the image above compels viewers to look into the distance but also restricts full visual access. As a text, Piranesi’s caption directs his audience to look in all directions, and as a visual image, it is a broad, contemporary view of an underground structure whose buried layers Piranesi elsewhere exposes through playful representations of his paper medium. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.