This page was created by Aniruth Sivakumar.  The last update was by Jeanne Britton.

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Remains of the Forum of Nerva (2 of 2)

This image suggests a visual argument against the theatrical stage designs from which Piranesi adopted his unique rendering of perspective. As such, it indicates that he continued to engage—through the composition of his images and their alternations between foreshortening and extending space—in debates about the role of architecture in the theater well into the 1760s. In contrast to the previous view of the Forum of Nerva, this engraving delineates the details of the ornate colonnade flanking the temple in pronounced chiaroscuro. Piranesi’s characteristic oblique perspective is strangely foreshortened so that viewers confront the monument almost head-on. The only sense of depth is created by the shadow of the half-buried columns, which precariously support the architrave and frieze above them. The flattened perspective of the monument contrasts with the steep diagonal line of the modern street on the right. The seemingly endless row of houses draws viewers deep into the city, but the action of urban life around the monument also leads the eye back to the foreground. Such multiple layers of depth created by perspective and the placement of figures in Piranesi’s etchings are often compared to the architectural style seen in eighteenth-century theater productions, and in particular the designs by Filippo Juvarra and Giuseppe Bibiena, bu they have also been seen as critical of the Bibiena style (Robison; Jarrard). His critique especially vivid in his approach to perspective, on which point he returned to the more classical studies by Vitruvius and Sebastiano Serlio (1475-c. 1554). 

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 (Nevola 2009). Notably, Serlio, whom Piranesi often cites, writes that the architecture for a tragic scene should be decorated with figures that are  “well organized” throughout the stage but also 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” (Libro d’Architettura II.29). In Serlio’s frontispiece to his third book of architecture on the monuments of ancient Rome, in the gallery below, 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.
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 as stage props, enhancing the dramatic contrast between antiquity and modernity brought out by the Forum's ruins: the ravages of time, increasing urbanization, architectural style, and archeological restoration.(ZL) 

To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.

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