quondam piranesi

Stephen Lauf

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

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pagan - christian - triumphal way 5.8

the blue line indicates the path of the triumphal way in reverse
1. Templum Martis
2. Sessorium
3. Domus Alexandri Severi
4. Templum Romuli


As the reverse Triumphal Way reaches the halfway point of the Stadium, it again crosses a significant axis, whose meaning too inverts from pagan to Christian. The axis, which spans from the Templum Martis to the Templum Romuli, in its original sense symbolizes the very beginnings of Rome. When comparing this portion of the Ichnographia with Nolli's map of Rome, however, it becomes clear that Piranesi's position of the Templum Martis coincides exactly with the present day church of S. Agnese in Agone, the legendary site of the brothel to which St. Agnes was sent as a form of torture prior to her subsequent martyrdom. Agnes was supposed to lose her virginity in the brothel, a virginity she vowed to Christ. Agnes was not raped in the brothel, however, because of the protection of an angel, therefore, Agnes was killed as a virgin. The execution of virgins was against Roman law and ethics, and, thus, the martyrdom of Agnes became a symbol of paganism's own corruption. In aligning the Templum Martis with S. Agnese in Agone, Piranesi makes an inverted link between Mars raping the Vestal Virgin Rhea, which brought forth Romulus and Remus and the founding of Rome itself, and the non-rape and virgin martyrdom of Agnes, which is one of the leading contributors towards the rise of Christianity in Rome.


left: The Templum Martis complex attached to the Circus Agonalis. The Templem Martis is indicated in red.
1. Domus Alexandri Severi
2. Sessorium

right: Detail of the Nolli map of Rome showing the Piazza Navona (Circus Agonalis). S. Agnese in Agone is indicated in red.


Piranesi reinforces the double meaning of the Templum Martis complex by including the Domus Alexandri Severi and the Sessorium. Neither the Domus Alexandri Severi nor the Sessorium existed within this section of Rome, and Piranesi's placement of these buildings within the Campo Marzio is another example where the archaeological mistakes of the Ichnographia signify an "other" meaning. The emperor Alexander Severus is known for having been very interested and sympathetic towards Christianity, to the point where he seriously considered proclaiming Jesus as one of the official Roman gods, and he also carved the (inverting) words "do unto others as you would have them do unto you" over the door of his house. The Sessorium, on the other hand, is a direct reference to the Palatium Sessorianum, the imperial estate that became St. Helena's residence in Rome after 312, and subsequently the church of Santa Croce in Gerusalemme. St. Helena is the mother of Constantine the Great


pagan - christian - triumphal way 5.9 »»

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