Although they likely relate to the tradition of the vedute rather than the theater, figures that enter and exit from the various windows, doors, and balconies do indeed give the scene a theatrical effect (Jarrard and Nevola). Notably, sixteenth-century architect Sebastiano Serlio, whom Piranesi often cites, writes that the architecture for a tragic scene should be decorated with figures that are not only “well organized” throughout the stage, but should reflect the way characters act in “il vivo,” appearing “on a balcony, in front of a door, with some sort of animal … or some person that sleeps” (Serlio, “Della Scena Tragica,” Libro d’Architettura II.29). The woman peering out the modern window, built directly into the center of the temple, in addition to the dog, reclining figure, and gesturing actors in the foreground, suggestively evoke Serlio’s words. In a similar fashion, the piled fragments at the edge of the image act like stage props, enhancing the drama between antiquity and modernity brought out by the Forum's ruins: the ravages of time, increasing urbanization, architectural style, and archeological restoration.
In Serlio’s frontispiece to his third book of architecture on the monuments of ancient Rome, in the gallery above, broken pieces of an ancient building are displayed before a classical architectural backdrop, similar to the stage-like perspective of the Temple’s façade in Piranesi’s etching. (ZL)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.