quondam piranesi

Stephen Lauf

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

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pagan - christian - triumphal way 5.9


1. Sepulchra Libertorum et Servorum
2. Sepulchrum Hadriani
3. Arcus Gratiani Valentiniani et Theodosii


Beyond the Stadium, the reverse Triumphal Way crosses the Tiber and turns around the Sepulchrum Hadriani (Hadrian's tomb). It is here that the Triumphal Way as delineated by Piranesi begins to reflect true archaeology, albeit inverted. After the reign of Constantine the Great, the triumphal processions within Rome no longer terminated at the Temple of Jupiter on the Arx, but rather culminated at St. Peter's Basilica in the Vatican valley. This explains why there was indeed a Via Triumphalis along the east bank of the Tiber across from the Campus Martius. It is historical fact that once the emperors of the Roman Empire converted to Christianity, the Triumphal Way in Rome also changed its course, and Piranesi continually expresses this religious conversion via symbolic inversion. As the reverse Triumphal Way of the Ichnographia turns to proceed behind the Sepulchrum Hadriani, it moves beside a long row of Sepulchra Libertorum et Servorum, tombs of free men and slaves. The repetitive plan of these tombs itself delineates inversion with each tomb being a flipped plan of the tombs next to it, and, moreover, free men and slaves are obvious inversions of each other. Furthermore, the Sepulchrum Hadriani, (as will be explained in the next section of this paper), establishes an axis of death. At the southern terminus of this death axis Piranesi positions the Arcus Gratiani Valentiniani et Theodosii, the Arch of Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius, which actually did exist in this part of Rome. It was the Emperor Theodosius who instituted Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, while, at the same time, he outlawed all paganism.


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