quondam piranesi

Stephen Lauf

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

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love and war 7.2

Atop the bluffs along the south bank of the Petronia Amnis, Piranesi situates a series garden villas among a scattering of other building types. The planning of the villas individually is orderly, if not also symmetrical, yet, in relation to one another, the grouping of the villas appears completely disorganized. Once the names of the various buildings is understood, however, a distinctive pattern develops. The first and largest villa is the Horti Lucullani, the Gardens of L. Licinius Lucullus, which, in 46 AD "belonged to Valerius Asiaticus, but were coveted by Messalina, who compelled the owner to commit suicide."1 Messalena was the nymphomaniac wife of the emperor Claudius. Next to the Horti Lucullani is the plain and simple Horti Narcissi; Narcissus was the name of the freedman of Claudius by whose orders Messalena was put to death. Next to the Horti Narcissi is the triangular Horti Anteri. There was no real garden of Anteri in ancient Rome, but there was such a thing as an anteros, which is an avenger of slighted love, or, in this case, love triangles. Then there is a bath complex in honor of Venus, the love goddess herself, and then a nympheum named for Tiberius, an emperor known for his fondness of pornography. And at the edge of the Ichnographia, there is the Viridarium Lucii Cornificii, a pleasure garden with two building extensions clearly phallic in plan. Finally, among these structures of love and lust are two Turres expugnandae, military defense towers whose plans no doubt represent substantial erections.

1. Samuel Ball Platner, The Topology and Monuments of Ancient Rome (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1904).



Piranesi's reenactment of the Equiria and the Petronia Amnis seems to simlpy say that all is fair in ancient Rome's fluid love and rigid war.

1. Horti Lucullani
2. Horti Narcissi
3. Horti Anteri
4. Balnea Veneris
5. Nymphaum Tiberij
6. Viridarium Lucii Cornificii
7. Turres expugnandae
The blue line indicates the course of the Petronia Amnis.




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