Printed shortly before Piranesi's death, this engraving comprises one of the artist's latest etchings in the Views of Rome. The Arch is in the city of Benevento, a town close to Naples. Scholars have proposed that Piranesi produced the print on his way to Paestum, an ancient city 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). Though this is one of few views set outside Rome, this view of the Arch of Benevento (Arch of Trajan) exemplifies Piranesi's approach to the representation of triumphal architecture.
Indeed, this view incorporates all the stylistic elements characteristic of 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 facade, while the contemporary street scene on the right recedes into the background through a steep diagonal axis. The various actors that inhabit the foreground, crumbling piles of ruins and half-delapidated structures, and the horse-drawn carriage set the scene and situate the Arch of Trajan in the bustle of eighteenth-century 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 to the viewer through chiaroscuro.
The fact that this is a later work in Piranesi's ouvre is, moreover, reflected in eighteenth-century collections. The Arch of Trajan is often the last work to appear in collections of the Views of Rome specifically, both in Italy and abroad (Hind, 6 & I.135). Though the precise order of the Views of Rome originally conceived by Piranesi remains largely unknown (Bevilacqua, 55), it is notable that in eighteenth-century collections Piranesi's etchings are grouped chronologically and by series. This seems not to be the case in later editions of Piranesi's works, such as the Opere of the Didot Paris edition of 1836 - the edition held at the University of South Carolina. The editor, Firmin Didot, perhaps with the assistance of Piranesi's son Francesco, seems to follow a different approach, grouping the etchings in the Views of Rome by type and geography, rather than chronology. Thus the Didot edition does not follow the original organizational, and perhaps conceptual, framework under which the Views of Rome were first circulated and collected. Formal and organizational differences in each edition or collection (both private or public, such as in libraries and museums), invite further thought about the significance of interventions of later authors - publishers, editors, artists, translators, and collectors- in the transmission and reception of Piranesi's works.
For more information on the production and reception of the Views of Rome and the Didot edition held at UofSC, see the Introduction to this volume.
To see this image in Vedute di Roma, vol 17 of Piranesi's Opere, click here.