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.)
Mistakes and Inversions
...address Piranesi's own mistakes and inversions, particularly the inversion of the Circus Flaminius (which I now know to be also exchanged in location with the theater of Balba, which further shows Piranesi's intentional "mistakes" to make a specific point). [Perhaps,] Piranesi makes the mistakes, first to call attention to specific points, and second to highlight the notion of inversion. Piranesi is indeed being theatrical, which is only natural because of the whole notion of reenactment. ...discuss the Ichnographia's Triumphal Way and how Piranesi redesigns (reenacts) the Way making it more ideal to its purpose (marching through the theater district). The Way (within Ichnographia at least) ends at the Temple of Janus--a perfect example of inversion. Then following the Triumphal Way in reverse manifests the Christian theme of salvation and redemption, ending at the inverted "basilica"--the upside-down "inverted" crucifixion of St. Peter. ...the Ichnographia not only represents the history of ancient pagan city of Rome, but also the Christian city of Rome. This evokes Augustine's The City of God and also Bloomer's notion of the Ichnographia transcending time.
...the Scenographia as the stage upon which Piranesi reenacts--this is the first scene and the "play" is about to begin. In the course of the "play" the most egregious "mistake/inversion" is the misplacement and disorientation of the Circus Flaminius and its actual exchange with the Theater of Balba. This "mistake" manifests a composition of inverted theaters--essentially a double inverted theater. This configuration becomes one of the Il Campo Marzio's final scenes and thus represents the double inverted "theater" of Rome's own history--the narrative of pagan Rome and the narrative of Christian Rome, and in the Ichnographia the one story is indeed a reflection of the other.
Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius, the large plan within the archeological text Il Campo Marzio dell'antica Roma, has inspired numerous architects since its first printing in 1757, yet the Encyclopedia Ichnographica is the first full-scale analysis of the plan's composition, meaning, and message. While representing a reenacted plan of ancient Rome's Field of Mars, Piranesi ingeniously delineates two narratives -- that of pagan Rome and that of Christian Rome -- and at the same time offers an unprecedented lesson in urban design.
Presented here as a work-in-progress, the Encyclopedia Ichnographica will address every detail of Piranesi's plan through an ongoing delivery of descriptive and analytical texts along with computer generated illustrations of the plan redrawn.
Fathoming the Unfathomable
fathom b : intellectual grasp, penetration, or profundity : COMPREHENSION
unfathomable : not capable of being fathomed a : INCOMPREHENSIBLE, INSCRUTIBLE [all that is cryptic and unfathomable in humanity --J.L.Lowes] b : IMMEASURABLE, IMPENETRABLE
intrigue 3 : the plot of a literary or dramatic work esp. marked by an intricacy of design or action or a complex interrelation of events
Giovanni Battista Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius is unquestionably a plan full of intrigue. The depth of its detail is equally matched by the depth of its meaning. To understand this plan requires total immersion, even though every aspect of the plan is already completely open to view. Therein lies the Ichnographia's greatest irony -- all the pieces are visibly in place while the overall effect remains a puzzle.
The Encyclopedia Ichnographica is the result, so far, of over a decade's worth of re-drawing and re-search, with the joint goal of both efforts being to lift the Ichnographia's shroud of puzzlement, as well as to finally place Piranesi's plan among architecture's paramount designs. Working with the Ichnographia is still rarely easy, however; the Latin labels throughout the plan do not always translate well, Piranesi's archeological inaccuracies are enduring hurdles, and the ongoing reading of both ancient and modern texts, along with reading and re-drawing the hundreds of plans within the large plan, is continually intense. Nevertheless, the Ichnographia rewards splendidly because, after the removal of many layers of incomprehensibility, Piranesi's large plan delivers numerous double narratives where inversion, if not satire, is the dominant theme. In more concise terms, the Ichnographia comes to represent Piranesi's delineation of ancient Rome's story from beginning to end.
After so many years of being intimately involved with the Ichnographia Campus Martius, it is slightly disconcerting to not know exactly when I first saw the large plan. If memory serves me correctly, my initial knowledge of Piranesi's Campo Marzio plan came with the anecdote of how a copy of the plan hung over Louis I. Kahn's office desk. Even though I now know that Vincent Scully relates this information within his book, Louis I. Kahn, I believe the account of the Ichnographiam hanging over Kahn's desk is something I originally heard in architecture school rather than read, and, since many of the mid-1970s faculty members at Temple University's Department of Architecture were either students of Kahn or had worked in Kahn's office, my assumption is reasonably sound.
Almost as a matter of course, the early years of my architectural education produced a strong personal interest in Kahn's geometric planning, specifically Kahn's unique ability of turning rigorous combinations of simple shapes into elegant plan compositions. Piecing things together, it then seemed obvious that Piranesi's plan of the Campo Marzio was a source of inspiration for Kahn's planning principles. Therefore, if I was to learn how to design like Kahn, I too needed Piranesi's plan for inspiration.
The Ichnographia remained elusive, however. My search through books and journals yielded reproductions of only portions of the plan, or reduced reproductions of the entire plan were near the point of illegibility. Over several years, I was still not able to compile a readable image of the Ichnographia, nevertheless, other factors began to broadened my comprehension of the plan. A group of diagrams labeled Typologies of the Campo Marzio, which appeared in the Summer 1978 edition of Oppositions 13, indicated that an investigation of Piranesi's plans had already occurred, yet the article [George Teyssot (Christian Hubert, trans.), "Emil Kaufmann and the Architecture of Reason: Klassizismus and 'Revolutionary Architecture'" in Oppositions 13 (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, Summer, 1978).] that included the 'typologies' offered no explanation of the analysis behind the diagrams. Even so, the diagrams present a clear message regarding a congruous geometry underlying the Ichnographia's individual plans. This finding registered a shift in my overall interest of the large plan so that, rather than wanting to learn about what inspired Louis Kahn's method of designing buildings and drawing plans, I became much more inquisitive as to what inspired Piranesi's distinctive ichnographic method.
The other factor that shifted my interest in Piranesi's Campo Marzio was a Stirling/Wilford building from 1979, which manifestly combined the ideas of typology and collage into a single coherent architectural design, the Wissenschaftszentrum (Science Center), Berlin. This Stirling/Wilford design is certainly a "spin-off" of Kahn's Convent for the Dominican Sisters, yet the Berlin building also clearly introduces a new motif within late 20th century architecture, namely the notion that formal abstraction can also include tectonic shapes that possess distinct architectural and typological associations. Of course, this methodology does not come without irony because the associations rendered through the Science Center design in no way relate to the building's functional program, yet the use of recognizable and comprehensible forms within a building's design still adds a potent element whereby modern architecture is able to deliver a readable message. I saw Stirling/Wilford's new approach as a further extension of the inspiration Kahn initially derived from Piranesi, and my supposition was reinforced by Charles Jencks who, as guest-editor of Architectural Design's 'Post-Modern Classicism,' [Charles Jencks, guest editor, "Post-Modern Classicism -- The New Synthesis," Architectural Design, vol. 50, no. 5/6, 1980, p. 75.] without explanation placed Piranesi's aerial perspective of the Campo Marzio next to a top view photograph of a model of the Science Center.
My formal architectural education thus ended in May 1981 with my designing an Institute of Contemporary Art where I explored typology and collage, and, judging from the design's schematic sketches, Piranesi influenced me more than I probably cared to admit at the time. Furthermore, as fate would have it, within weeks of my graduation I found a poster of the Ichnographia in the AIA Philadelphia Bookstore. I immediately purchased the poster, and promptly hung it over my drafting table at home.