The Digital PiranesiMain MenuAboutThe Digital Piranesi is a developing digital humanities project that aims to provide an enhanced digital edition of the works of Italian illustrator Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778).Works and VolumesGenres, Subjects, and ThemesBibliographyGlossary and Abbreviations
View of the Colosseum (1 of 2)
12019-11-11T16:57:29-08:00Avery Freemanb9edcb567e2471c9ec37caa50383522b90999cba228491from Volume 17 of Giovanni Battista Piranesi's Opereplain2019-11-11T16:57:29-08:00Internet ArchivedatapiranesiRescan_vol17_0175.jpgAvery Freemanb9edcb567e2471c9ec37caa50383522b90999cba
12019-05-29T13:29:52-07:00View of the Colosseum (1 of 2)41Veduta dell’Anfiteatro Flavio, detto il Colosseoplain2023-06-26T07:51:36-07:00Title: Veduta dell’Anfiteatro Flavio, detto il Colosseo Key: A. Archi del prim’Ordine dell’Anfiteatro, pe’ quali il popolo ascendeva ai gradi degli Spettacoli. B. Recinti moderni. C. Numeri incisi negli stessi archi, forse per segno di chi desiderava d’esser rinvenuto fra la moltitudine degli Spettatori. D. Arco senza numero, sopra cui era immarginato il ponte che dalle fabbriche Cesaree dell’Esquilino dava l’ingresso nell’Anfiteatro. E. Parte dell’Anfiteatro deturpata dagl’Incendj. F. Archi del secondo e terz’ordine anticamente intrachiusi da’parapetti, de’quali vi restano alcuni segni e residui. G. Mensole su cui posavano le antenne di metallo, che passando per la cornice, sostenevano la gran tenda. H. Architrave interrotto dalle antenne, nelle quali era impressa la parte interrotta del medesimo. I. Radici del monte Esquilino. K. Arco di Costantino. L. Monte Celio. M. Principio della via di San Giovanni Laterano. Signature: Presso l’Autore a Strada Felice vicino alla Trinità de Monti. Signature 2: Piranesi F(ecit).Title: View of the Flavian Amphitheatre, called the Colosseum Key: A. Arches of the first Order of the Amphitheatre, through which the people ascended the stairs to the Spectacles. B. Modern barriers C. Numbers incised in the aforementioned arches, perhaps as a sign for those who wished to be found among the multitude of the Spectators D. Arch without a number, above which the bridge from the Imperial buildings was joined, and gave access to the Amphitheatre. E. Part of the Amphitheatre that was damaged by Fires F. Arches of the second and third order, in ancient times enclosed by parapets, of which there are still signs and remains G. Ledges on which metal rods were placed, that passing through the cornice, held up the great banner H. Architrave interrupted by the rods, in which there was affixed the interrupted part of the same. I. The foot of the Esquiline Hill K. Arch of Constantine L. Caelian Hill. M. The beginning of the street of San Giovanni Laterano. Signature: Published by the Author in the Strada Felice near Trinità de Monti. Signature: Made by Piranesi.The Colosseum, constructed under the reign of Vespasian and inaugurated in 80 CE, defies visual representation. As the largest amphitheater in the Roman world, it is of a magnitude not easily rendered on paper. As a testament to architectural order and, by the eighteenth century, a plundered ruin, it presents an opposition between, on one hand, the regularity of the classical orders that ascend from ground level (Tuscan, Ionic, and Corinthian) and, on the other, the overgrown, ragged masses of travertine stone that appear at its severed points. In this veduta, the first of five of the Colosseum in the Vedute di Roma, a largely intact exterior appears in an impossible span, with more arches visible than any actual 180-degree panorama would allow. Piranesi’s use of the worm’s-eye view and his positioning of the damaged section of the exterior to the right of the image allow this veduta to include ruination and irregularity only to subsume both beneath the imposing magnificence of the largely intact northeast side. By contrast, an earlier image from his Antichità Romane fabricates what seems to be a fully intact façade from a similar position.
While the vantage point grants a broad, expansive scope, looking closely yields copious detail: gnarled human figures lurk in nearly every archway; tricorns in the foreground signal wealthy tourists; vines hang from arches against the negative space of the sky. If the vantage point exaggerates what remains, the captions itemize what is lost, cataloging evidence of fire damage (E) and banners that were extended over the top level (F, G, H). As another annotation points out, each of the arches bears a Roman numeral that indicated who could enter, from senators and knights to plebians, women, and slaves. Piranesi’s key begins by noting the arches of the “prim’Ordine” or first level (in the Tuscan order, a Roman version of the Doric), through which “il popolo” enter and ascend to their seats (A). As in the following view of the Colosseum, emphasizes social hierarchy (Zorach 119) and the connection between the architectural orders of the structure and the social orders of its visitors. At odds with the disorder of ruin, wild plant growth, and the human life depicted outside its walls, the Colosseum in this image and its accompanying text conveys the long-standing idea that the orders of architecture parallel those of social rank (Tzonis and Lefaivre 43). Expanding the visual scope of a realistic veduta and marshalling the genre’s informative captions for a commentary on social order, Piranesi creates with this annotated image a visual and verbal testament to exaggerated solidity and enforced hierarchy. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.