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View of the rear entrance of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore
12020-02-20T06:55:35-08:00Avery Freemanb9edcb567e2471c9ec37caa50383522b90999cba228491from Volume 16 of Giovanni Battista Piranesi's Opereplain2020-02-20T06:55:35-08:00Internet Archivepiranesi-ia-vol16-018.jpgimageAvery Freemanb9edcb567e2471c9ec37caa50383522b90999cba
12018-11-29T18:21:19-08:00View of the Rear Façade of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore22Veduta della Facciata di dietro della Basilica di Santa Maria Maggioreplain2022-08-26T15:07:37-07:00Title: Veduta della Facciata di dietro della Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore Key: 1. Cappella di Sisto V. 2 Cappella di Paolo V. 3. Obelisco ritrovato fra le rovine del Mausoleo d’Augusto, e fatto quivi trasportare ed erigere da Sisto V. 4. Villa Montalto Signature: Giov(anni). Battista Piranesi Architetto dis(egnavit). ed inc(idit). Signature 2: Presso l’Autore a Strada Felice vicino alla Trinità de’ MontiTitle: View of the rear facade of the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore Key: Chapel of Sixtus V. 2. Chapel of Paul V. 3. Obelisk found among the ruins of the Mausoleum of Augustus, and transported and erected there by Sixtus V. 4. Villa Montalto Signature: Drawn and engraved by the Architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi Signature 2: Published by the Author in the Strada Felice in Palazzo Tomati near Trinità de Monti.This second exterior view of Santa Maria Maggiore, in which dramatic visual contrasts of perspective, light, and composition stage confrontations between order and disorder, ancient and modern, and nature and civilization, is more characteristic of Piranesi’s style than his etchings of the façade and interior of the same basilica. The activities of Roman street life frame the composition, and gesturing figures, dark shadows, and crumbling ruins create a space of dynamic movement in the foreground, where viewers confront the daily chaos of the piazza. A half-cut figure theatrically gestures toward the bustling street on the right. A wide array of characters hang their wash, drink from the fountain, sell their wares, point to the monuments, and rest on the crumbling ancient fragments. The most prominent activity occurs at the center: figures cut, collect, and tie large branches of wood with rope. Unruly and knotted, the central tree represents a nature untamed. The thorny and spectral edges of the large trunks split the composition in half and provide both a visual and thematic opposition to the regimented classical style of Renaissance architecture. In the close-up below, the contrast between rectilinear lines of the pilasters and spidery sketchiness of the tree branches is even more evident. At the same time, the once uncontrollable vegetation is now contained and transported by human intervention. The obelisk on the left also tells a story of conquest and displacement. Piranesi’s third annotation indicates that the structure was “ritrovato fra le rovine del Mausoleo d’Augusto, e fatto quivi trasportare ed erigere da Sisto V.” The transfer of the obelisk from an ancient tomb to a church piazza reflects an earlier movement from Africa to Rome, an imperial and colonial past that is installed, “restored”’ and continued by the papacy, whose power is further emphasized by the towering Renaissance chapels in the background, also commissioned by Sixtus V and Paul V, as indicaataed in the first and second annotations. At the same time, Piranesi depicts the obelisk in a state of decay, crumbling and scarred, with lines that resemble those of the tree branches and leaves. Though gleaming and pristine now, the rear Renaissance façade has already begun to succumb to the effects of nature and modern life.
Emphasis on decay and the quotidian aspects of urban life may be suggested by the title, which indicates that it is a view of the Basilica “di dietro.” Jeanne Zarucchi argues that unique titles such as these, by including the phrase “altra veduta,” “evoke scenes of poverty and pathos ... a darker vision of the life that goes on amid the crumbling ruins” (367). Building on Zarucchi’s argument, we might understand “di dietro” to indicate not only a location—the rear façade of the Basilica—but also a “behind the scenes” glimpse into the lived and disordered space of the square. In contrast to contemporary views of the basilica’s rear façade, which are generally neat, orderly, and sparsely populated, the space of Piranesi’s etching is replete with complex contradictions. While Piranesi’s other two views of Santa Maria Maggiore generally follow visual tradition, largely in order to appeal to collectors and tourists, this early view begins to show Piranesi’s characteristic juxtapositions of architectural magnificence and contemporary decay. (ZL)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.