quondam piranesi

Stephen Lauf

Inside the Density of G. B. Piranesi's Ichnographia Campi Martii

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1 :
the quality or state of being dense : closeness of texture or consistancy : a crowded condidtion 2 b : the average number of individuals or units per space unit [3 : extreme stupidity]

At its maximum extent in the 3rd century A.D. the city came to occupy the whole area within the Aurelian Wall, an area of 4 sq.mi. (10 sq.km.) with a population variously calculated at 800,000 to 1,2000,000.
J. B. Ward-Perkins, "Rome," in Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, Inc., 1969), vol. 19, p. 565.

density 2.0

The Ichnographia Campi Martii comprises at least 500 individual building plans; some building are minute and nameless, while others are enormous conglomerates labeled with fitting Latin titles. Within the texts and the indices that accompany the Ichnographia, and hence compose the entire Campo Marzio publication, Piranesi cites no less than 312 existing ruins or ancient artifacts relative to the Campo Marzio and, likewise, gathers historical evidence from over 1000 literary sources culled from the works of more than thirty-five ancient and contemporary authors.

To Piranesi's credit, the densest portion of the Ichnographia, namely the lower left corner of the plan which corresponds more or less directly with the actual Campus Martius proper, is also the area within the Ichnographia that contains the highest degree of veracity. Piranesi's rendition of the area between the Pantheon, the Capitoline Hill and the Tiber in effect correctly places all the buildings that once stood in this region of the city. Granted, the individual building plans are archaeological distortions, however, Piranesi's overall arrangement of this particular area remains among the more actual "reconstructions" of the Campus Martius up until the end of the nineteenth century.

Although the notion of finding truth in density cannot necessarily claim the status of a universal dictum, it is nonetheless an affirmation that holds true for the Ichnographia Campi Martii.

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