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View of the Temple of the Sibyl in Tivoli
Veduta del tempio della Sibilla in Tivoli
Title: Veduta del tempio della Sibilla in Tivoli Key: Volgarmente così si chiama. Alcuni han pensato, che fosse d’Ercole; ma il Cluverio nel libro 3. de Italia antiqua suppone che fosse di Tiburno per quelle parole di Stazio nel libro 1. delle Selve…. illa recubat Tiburnus in umbra; illic sulphureos cupit Albula mergere crines. Sul fregio di esso leggesi questa tronca iscrizione….. F.L.GELLIO.L.F. Abbiamo due Lucj Gellj figliuoli di Lucio. Consoli l’uno l’anno di Roma DCXXCI, l’altro l’anno DCCXVII, l’uno di essi forse fece o ristaurò questo tempio. 2 Altro tempio antico, oggi di San Giorgio. Anche questo, per que’ versi di Stazio potrebbe dirsi della Dea Albunea….. illa Tiburnus in umbra, illic Albula. Signature: Pressa l’Autore a Strada Felice nel Palazzo Tomati vicino alla Trinità de monti. Signature 2: Piranesi Fec(it).
Title: View of the Temple of the Sibyl in Tivoli. Key: Commonly called by this name. Some have thought that the Temple was of Hercules; but Clüver in Book 3 of Italia Antiqua suggests that it was of Tiburnus because of those words by Statius in Book 1 of the Silvae... illa recubat Tiburnus in umbra; illic sulphureos cupit Albula mergere crines [here Tiburnus lies in this shade; here Albula wishes to wash her sulphurous hair]...on the frieze of this one reads this cut off inscription...F.L.GELLIO.L.F. We have two Lucius Gelliuses, son of Lucius. Both consuls, one in the year of Roma DCXXCI, the other in the year DCCXVII, one of them perhaps built or restored this temple. 2 Another ancient temple, now San Giorgio. Even this temple, for those verses of Statius, one could say that it is of the Goddess Albunea...here Tibur in the shade, here Albula. Signature: Published by the Author in the Strada Felice in Palazzo Tomati near Trinità de Monti. Signature 2: Made by Piranesi.
The titles of Piranesi’s etchings of ancient structures often confront problems of identification: monuments can be known by more than one name (“the Colosseum,” to take the most well-known example, is also “the Flavian Amphitheater”), and there is sometimes no evidence of the deities to whom temples were dedicated. This image’s lengthy caption is entirely focused on identifying this temple, indicated here as the Temple of the Sibyl and now known as the Temple of Vesta. Within the image, visual access to the temple is somewhat blocked in terms of composition; behind the rectangular temple to the right, it is a “ghostly figure in the background” of an image that is “instead filled with a pile of rubbish and ruins” (Verschaffel 139). From the shadows cast by the second temple, dramatically demonstrative human figures emerge in bright light that illuminates what seems to be “a chain of kinetic gestures” that direct viewers in different directions within the image (Wilton-Ely 1978, 39).
Rather than pointing to features of the temple or identifying other monuments in the distance, Piranesi’s text here engages in and typographically visualizes the practice of attributing monuments based on historical sources and stone inscriptions. After observing that some have speculated that the temple was devoted to Hercules, he corrals three pieces of evidence to support its attribution to Tiburnus, the origin of the ancient name for the Etruscan town of Tibur (now Tivoli). The first author he cites, Cluverio, or Philipp Clüver (1580-1622), was an antiquarian and geographer whose first-hand accounts of geographical features and ancient architecture, combined with references to classical sources, revolutionized the practice of geography. Second, in his Italia Antiqua (1624), Clüver himself cites Stazio, or Publius Papinius Statius (c. 45 CE-c. 96 CE), a Roman writer whose poem Silvae describes two deities in lines that Piranesi quotes: “… illa recubat Tiburnus in umbra, / illic sulpureos cupit Albula mergere crines.” Finally, Piranesi also cites what remains of an inscription on the temple’s architrave, which is visible in his third view of the temple. Based on this inscription, he observes that one of the two Roman consuls both named Lucius Gelliuses (the first held the position in the seventh century, the second in the following century) might have built or restored the temple. In light of this textual evidence, and particularly the deictic references of the Latin verse (“illa … Tiburnus … / illic … Albula”), Piranesi concludes that the rectangular temple might have been dedicated to Albula, the Tiburtine Sibyl who joined the original nine Greek Sibyls.
This consideration of the Temple’s true identity overtakes Piranesi’s customary process of annotation, as the image contains only a “2” that indicates the other temple, leaving readers to infer that the Temple of the Sibyl must, although not designated as such, be “1.” The caption resembles a discursive footnote, with abbreviated references to sources (“Lib. 3,” etc.). It is also notable for its meticulous duplication of varied fonts: his own Italian is rendered in slanted italic, and Latin quotations from typeset text are transcribed in a rigid Roman style from which the temple’s carved inscription is differentiated by more generously spaced capital letters.
The emphasis on typography—produced by hand-engraved text—suggests a careful approach to the study and reproduction of evidence that is on striking display, as Heather Hyde Minor has argued, in the “visual citations” and elaborate footnotes of his Della Magnificenza ed Architettura de’ Romani, also published in the same year as this etching, 1761 (2015, 118-142). These references to inscriptions and sources both ancient and modern point readers in different directions, within and beyond the image, between languages and across centuries. Piranesi’s antiquarian references seem to resemble the image’s human figures, whose gestures suggest, on one hand, an effort to overcome the distance between past and present that the image foregrounds in its composition while mimicking, on the other, the frantic jumping in the caption from one citation to another, from print to inscription. (JB)
To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.