quondam piranesi

Stephen Lauf

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

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pagan - christian - triumphal way 5.6

the blue line indicates the path of the triumphal way in reverse
1. Theatrum Marcelli
2. Theatrum Balbi
3. Porticus Philippi
4. Circus Flaminius


Upon following the Triumphal Way in its reverse direction, one immediately encounters the Theatrum Marcelli, which forms a pair with the Theatrum Balbi further up along the way. As with the Porticus Philippi, Piranesi transposed the true site of the Theater of Balbus with the true site of the Circus Flaminius. This transposition of structures is surely among the first archaeological mistakes within the Ichnographia easily recognized by anyone familiar with ancient Rome's topography, and hence has fostered the overall criticism of Piranesi's plan as fragmentary fantasy. What the critics have failed to see, however, is that Piranesi's "mistakes" most often signify innuendo. In this case, the two theaters are literal indications that the Triumphal Way, and indeed the entire Ichnographia, represent a double theater, more precisely a double theater where one stage set is the inversion of the other. Likewise, as much as the city of Philippi relates to Augustus and the very beginnings of the Empire, it also fits squarely within Christianity since it was the Philippians who established the first Christian Church of the West.


Theaters of Balbus and Marcellus, from the final plate of Il Campo Marzio dell'Antica Roma


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