The Digital Piranesi

View of the Arch (in the city) of Benevento in the Kingdom of Naples

Printed shortly before Piranesi's death, this engraving comprises one of the artist's latest etchings in the Views of Rome and exemplifies Piranesi’s approach to the representation of triumphal architecture. Benevento is close to Naples. Piranesi may have produced the print on his way to Paestum, an ancient Greek colony in southern Italy, where he started work on the last series of his career: Different Views of Some of the Remains of Three Great Edifices of the Ancient City of Pesto (1778). One of few views set outside Rome, this depiction of the Arch of Benevento (Arch of Trajan) incorporates stylistic elements characteristic of both the veduta genre and Piranesi’s mature style. For example, through the manipulation of perspective, the narrow foreground pushes the Arch to the outermost edges of the plate, elongating the scale of the monument to emphasize the grandeur of Roman architecture (Verschaffel, 126). The massive blocks of stone are depicted in textured shadow that brings out the specific architectural and decorative elements of the façade, while the contemporary street scene on the right recedes into the background through a steep diagonal axis. In the foreground, various actors, crumbling piles of ruins, and the horse-drawn carriage situate the Arch of Trajan in the bustle of eighteenth-century street life. Piranesi’s emphasis on the modelling of the friezes, fluted Corinthian columns, and protruding architraves exhibits the monumentality of the Arch, and perhaps demonstrates the extensive reach of the Roman Empire under Trajan, whose imperial campaigns are memorialized in the bas-reliefs Piranesi artfully reveals through chiaroscuro. The fact that this is a later work in Piranesi’s œuvre is reflected not only in its style but also in its position within eighteenth-century collections. This view is often the last work to appear in collections of the Views of Rome, both in Italy and abroad (Hind, 6 &  I.135). Though Piranesi’s original ordering of the Views of Rome is largely unknown (Bevilacqua, 55), eighteenth-century collections tend to arrange Piranesi's etchings chronologically and by series. This seems not to be the case in later editions of Piranesi’s works, such as Firmin Didot’s Opere, which instead arranges the Views of Rome according to type and geography rather than chronology. Formal, organizational, and perhaps conceptual differences in each edition or collection (both private or public) invite further consideration of the interventions of later authors—publishers, editors, artists, translators, and collectors—in the transmission and reception of Piranesi’s works. (ZL)

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

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