Vincenzo Fasolo, "The Campo Marzio of G. B. Piranesi".
axes of life and death
...the Roman cardo and decumanus... ... wonder whether the life and death axes of the Campo Marzio are also a reenactment of the ancient town planning axes. Upon inspection of the Ichnographia, the life and death axes are just a few degrees shy of corresponding with the cardinal points. Moreover, the cardo, the north-south axis corresponds to the axis of death in the Ichnographia, and traditionally "refers to the axis around which the universe rotates." The Campo Marzio axis of life, the east-west axis, the decumanus, refers to the rising and setting of the sun.
...the Arch of Theodosius et al is placed at the tip of the axis of death. In its smallness (and apparent insignificance) it reminds of the tiny unnamed intercourse building at the tip of the axis of life. What is of utmost significance, however, is that this particular Triumphal Arch is indeed one of the very latest building additions rendered within the Ichnographia, and dates from anywhere between AD 367-395.
The placement of this arch at the tip of the axis of death is symbolic in that it represents the very end--Theodosius was the last Emperor to rule over both the East and West Empire, and it was he who instituted Christianity as the state religion--the end of the pagan empire and the end of any semblance of a totally unified empire. Thus, the intercourse building at the tip of the axis of life represents the very beginning (of life and quite possibly of the Ichnographia's plan formations, as well) and the Arch of Theodosius et al at the tip of the axis of death represents not only Rome's end as the sole capital of the civilized world, but also its end as capital of the pagan world.
It is through his plan of the city of Rome that Piranesi writes (and/or rights) the history of Rome itself. Through the Ichnographia Piranesi reenacts the history of the city.
...the Ichnographia represents Rome at its pagan zenith...
life, death, and the triumphal way [inversion]
I spoke with Sue Dixon yesterday and told her of my latest "discoveries" regarding the life and death axes of the Ichnographia, the arch of Theodosius et al and the further symbolism of the Porticus Neronianae as an inverted basilica-cross. She too became excited by my discoveries and then also brought further insight, especially in reference to the issue of the papacy and its research during the eighteenth century into the early Christian Church. She spoke of Bianchini and his nephew (a contemporary of Piranesi's) and their dual volumes of pagan (Roman) and Christian art, and she also mentioned how the papacy of the eighteenth century had lost (more or less by force and financial restraints) much of its political power and thus took on a very pious role--exhibiting not its worldly power but its almost mystical or spiritual power.
What I was saying about the apparent Pagan-Christian conversion-inversion narrative of the Ichnographia fit with what research Sue is continually doing regarding the contemporary and early eighteenth century influences on Piranesi and the whole issue of proto-archeology-history of the eighteenth century.
After speaking with Sue, I began thinking of the significance of the arch to the victory over Judea that is situated to the western end of the Bustum Hadriani. I now see it related to the pagan-Christian conversion-inversion of Rome, but in terms of Roman history it is a somewhat marginal issue-event. Yet, in terms of Christianity, the Roman victory over Judea, and hence the fall of Jerusalem, is a significant, albeit still sorrowful, event because of this event's relationship, and indeed verification of certain-particular passages of New Testament Scripture, i.e., Jesus' answering the Apostles question of when Jerusalem would end (which I think is in Mark or the Acts of the Apostles). Seeing how a seemingly minor event in Roman (Imperial) history can at the same time be a critical event for the foundation of Christianity made me think about how the Roman Judaic victory unwittingly gave manifest confirmation that Christianity had from that point forward absorbed Judaism.
Although it comes from the margin or edge, the significance of the victory of Judea arch sheds a major light upon the narrative Piranesi tells--Piranesi's "story" is about Christianity's similar absorption and concomitant destruction of paganism. This notion of Christianity absorbing both Judaism and paganism has major theological implications, especially with regard to a heretofore perhaps ignored importance-significance of Rome and the Roman Empire within the Canon and doctrine of the Christian (Catholic) faith.
...the real axis of St. Peter's Basilica and Square. This axis is fundamental to Piranesi' axis of life--and the most significant point alone the existing axis is the burial place of St. Peter, which, although not noted in the Ichnographia, is nonetheless an ancient Roman artifact.
...the story of the Triumphal Way. ...follow the triumphal path on the plan, and explain the entire route in Roman-pagan-triumphal ritual terms. ...bring up the essential concept of reenactment, the reenactment that Piranesi here designed, especially the well planned sequence of stadia and theaters along the way. Piranesi made use of what was actually once there.
When the route reaches the wall at the Temple of Janus, attention turns to Triumphal Arch-Gate, which is closed during the years of inactivity. Does the Triumphal Way then bounce off the wall and go back the way it came? Does the Temple of Janus allow us to go in either direction? (Other clues of inversion abound: obelisk in the Horti Salustiani, Porticus Phillippi, the Arches along the Via Lata, the Via Flaminia, the Circus Flaminia, the obelisks at Augustus's Tomb. The recurring inversion theme points to a greater meaning/symbolism.) The Temple (arch) of Janus represents the Arch of Janus built by Constantine (who might himself be called the Janus figure of Christianity) and this is the initiation of the way of Christianity's triumph: the profane to the sacred; the forest, hell, purgatory, heaven; the path of salvation through Christ and the Church.)
...the way from the profane to the sacred ends at the Area-Templum Martis as symbolic of the union of the most sacred site ancient Rome (or at least its point of origin) with the most sacred site of Christian Rome (St. Peter's place of burial) and also the point of origin of Christian Rome.
The garden of Nero is the ultimate field of inversion: Horti Neroniani to Vatican City, the garden of antichrist to the Church as the Body of Christ, the foremost seat of the Church of Christ, and finally St. Peter's inverted crucifixion begins the conversion of Rome.
I will conclude the inversion from pagan to Christian story-line by returning to the axis of death and the Arch of Theodosius et al at its tip, and thus when compared with the intercourse building we have depicted the beginning and the end of pagan Rome. To this I will add the Jewish Victory monument and end with the notion that Piranesi has here used architectural plans and urban design to tell the "history" of ancient Rome, however, one has in a sense read both the "positive" and the "negative" image-plan--a story where the first half is the reciprocal of the second half (and vice versa). (I am oddly reminded here of the double theaters story from Circle and Oval in St. Peter's Square.)
The City of God - inverse ichnographia
...The City of God, a connection between it and the Ichnographia. Sue Dixon mentioned a specific quotation where there is even a grammatical inversion used to describe the two natures of the city (the earthly vs. the spiritual). ...hopefully demonstrate how the Ichnographia represents both "urban" paradigms; the Ichnographia is a plan of earthly Rome and it is also an opposite/inverse plan of spiritual Rome. Piranesi was trying to deliver both messages, meaning he was aware of the two "urban" paradigms and thus used the "planning" of the Campo Marzio to express both.
...the time-frame of the Arch of Theodosius (the end of the Roman Campo Marzio), the Visigoth siege on Rome, and the subsequent writing of The City of God--these events occurred within a 40 year time-span. Piranesi was trying to depict, delineate, reconstruct, reenact the inversion from Imperial Rome to the spiritual Rome of the Church. Along with this line of thought there is also the not-so-smooth conversion of Rome from a pagan state to a Christian state.
Arch of Arcadius, Honorius and Theodosius
This arch was erected in 403 A.D. by Arcadius, Honorius, and Theodosius, in honor of Stilicho's victories. It was certainly near the Arch of Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius, but whether it spanned the same street or a branch a short distance to the south, we do not know. This branch led from the porticus Maximae [or Porticus Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius] to the pons Neronianus.
Samuel Ball Platner, The Topography and Monuments of Ancient Rome (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1904), pp. 359.
The approximate positions of the Pons Neronianus and the Arch of Arcadius, Honorius and Theodosius are indicated in red and superimpose the area of the Ichnographia around the bend in the Tiber and Hadrian's Tomb.
1. Arcus Gratiani, Valentiniani et Theodosii, 2. Porticus Gratiani, Valentiniai et Theodosii, 3. Sepulchrum Hadriani.
Pagan - Christian - Triumphal Way
Envisioning the Past
Sam Smiles and Stephanie Moser, editors, Envisioning the Past: Archaeology and the Image (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2005).
I've been looking forward to getting/reading this book for almost a year now because of Susan M. Dixon's "Illustrating Ancient Rome, or the Ichnographia as Uchronis and Other Time Warps in Piranesi's Il Campo Marzio." therein.
I've known Sue Dixon since 1975, as we started architecture school together. Sue and I had many phone conversations regarding Piranesi and the Campo Marzio from 1994 to 1997. We hardly communicate at all anymore, and that's mostly because Sue sees my Campo Marzio work as too outside the realm of academia and also somewhat infringing upon the work that she herself wanted/wants to do. In her last email to me (of almost two years ago) she actually suggested that "publishing via the web is not copyrighted." Of course, I immediately informed her that her supposition was completely bogus, and it is indeed unfortunate that such a notion is indicative of how academia chooses to view any kind of publishing that is outside of academia's own control.
I still like Sue, but I don't like the academic mold that she and all others like her have to conform to. I particularly dislike how my unprecedented Campo Marzio work remains academically unrecognized. Granted, I was surprised to find Sue actually mentioned me in a footnote within her essay above, but all that really does is point to a rather large lacunae in her references. I'll be "de-constructing" "Illustrating Ancient Rome..." in a series of subsequent posts... Here's something for starters:
The whole point of Dixon's "Illustrating Ancient Rome..." occurs in one sentence on page 121:
"In this sense, the Ichnographia reads as a memory of an ancient Roman past rather than a historical reconstruction of it."
This passage is remarkably similary to a sentence within the abstract to "Inside the Density of G.B Piranesi's Ichnographia Campi Martii" which I wrote in 1999:
"The hundreds of individual building plans and their Latin labels within the Campo Marzio do not "reconstruct" ancient Rome as much as they "reenact" it."
It looks like Sue hasn't realized that human memory itself is nothing but a reenactment.
...footnote 16 of "Illustrating Ancient Rome..." reads:
I thank Stephen Lauf for pointing out this late fourth-century monument. It is situated on the right bank of the Tiber, just south of the bridge leading to the Mausoleum of Hadrian.
The monument Dixon notes is the Arch of Gratian and Valentinian II, but the arch that Piranesi delineates within the Ichnographia is the Arch of Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius, so I'm not really sure what Sue is thanking me for (and I certainly hope that she is not somehow covertly implicating me as to making a mistaking identification). There are a couple of possibilities as to what really happened here:
1. Sue could be recalling some long ago phone conversation that we had. I doubt this though.
2. Sue is referencing (albeit incorrectly) page 6.1 of "Inside the Density...". If this is the case, then she should certainly have provided the full bibliographical reference.
3. Sue could be referencing the "Honorius, Flavius" entry of Encyclopedia Ichnographica that was published at Quondam in 1998. The Arch of Gratian, Valentinian and Theodosius is indicated there as well.