quondam piranesi

Stephen Lauf

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

1   b   c   d   e   f   g   h   i   j   k   l   m   n   o   p   q   r   s   t   u   v   w   x   y   z   aa   ab

3 :
to act out : REPRESENT, PLAY ~ vi : to act on or as if on the stage : PERFORM

2 :
to act or perform again

to construct again: as a (1) : to build again : REBUILD (2) : to make over : REPAIR b : to subject (an organ or part of the body) to surgery so as to correct a defect in or to reform c (1) : RECONSTITUTE (2) : REORGANIZE, REESTABLISH (3) : REHABILITATE d (1) : to put together again, REASSEMBLE

reenactment versus reconstruction 3.0

The act of reassembling archaeological artifacts into their original form or appearance is commonly called reconstructing, and the resultant new artifact is hence called a reconstruction. Piranesi's Ichnographia Campi Martii is most often referred to as a reconstruction, albeit a reconstruction of a most fanciful nature. Tafuri takes this assertion to an extreme when he states "the archaeological mask of Piranesi's Campo Marzio fools no one: this is an experimental design and the city, therefore, remains an unknown." It is correct that the Campo Marzio sports a mask, but it is a mask of reenactment and not one of reconstruction. Likewise, the Campo Marzio is indeed an experimental urban design, but it is not a design destined to remain unknown.

Piranesi published Il Campo Marzio dell'antica Roma in 1762, a time when the science of archaeology was yet in its infancy -- in fact, Piranesi easily fulfills the role of ur-archaeologist. In 1744, just eighteen years prior to the Campo Marzio, Giambattista Vico published Scienza nouva (The New Science), wherein he "laid emphasis upon the need for the historian to recreate imaginatively the spirit of the past ages and the outlook and attitudes of mind possessed by the men who lived in them, instead of trying to impose upon them inappropriate interpretive models suggested by ways of thinking and feeling current in his own time."1 The second illustrative plate of Il Campo Marzio dell'antica Roma entitled "Scenographia Campi Martii" (literally the stage set of the Campus Martius) depicts the Field of Mars denuded of everything except for its ancient topography, and this elimination of all things non-Roman strongly suggests that Piranesi followed Vico's "new scientific" method.

It is upon the near empty stage of the Scenographia that Piranesi proceeds to reenact Roma antica.

1. Patrick L. Gardiner, "Philosophy of history" in Encyclopedia Britannica (Chicago: Encyclopedia Britannica, 1969), vol. 11, p. 543.

Scenographia, plate II of Il Campo Marzio dell'Antica Roma

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