This fantastic composition is a unique document in the history of architecture. With incredible inventiveness, Piranesi has created an idealized version of the Campo Marzio, which of course has never looked like this. He has spent his whole life studying Roman ruins with great passion and sketching plans for their reconstruction. With this six-part etching he added a kind of 'divertimento' to Roman town-planning.
Rob Krier, Urban Space (New York: Rizzoli, 1979), p. 68.
It is immediately apparent that this structure is composed of a formless heap of fragments colliding one against the other. The whole area between the Tiber, the Campidoglio, the Quirinale, and the Pincio is represented according to a method of arbitrary association (even though Piranesi accepts the suggestions of the Forma urbis), whose principles of organization exclude any organic unity.
Manfredo Tafuri, The Sphere and the Labyrinth - Avant-Gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1987), p. 34.
By directing architecture's gaze back upon itself with this "morbid precision," by demonstrating the futility of a return to origins, Piranesi establishes in the Campo Marzio a plane -- a shifting, indeterminant plane -- upon which the horizons of classicism and the most radical project of modernity momentarily coincide. It is for this reason that twentieth-century readings of Piranesi have underlined a dissonance and disjunction existing alongside of the classical.
Stanley Allen, "Piranesi's Campo Marzio: An Experimental Design" in Assemblage (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press Journals, December, 1989), pp. 71-109.
Piranesi looked about and found, to his horror, the impassive cage of the Cartesian-Newtonian universe descending onto his world. The Campo Marzio Ichnographia is a product of his reaction. The drawing represents the real and the unreal, the past and the future, a place and no place. With it, Piranesi shatters history and geography, time and space. The devise is critical. It is allegorical. Piranesi's construction of architectural bits, the sediment of history, corresponds to the fractured narrative of James Joyce's Ulysses.
Jennifer Bloomer, Architecture and the text: the (s)crypts of Joyce and Piranesi (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993), p. 70.
Beginning with the exaggerated Roman buildings in the first volumes of the Antichità, and continuing with the partial depictions of the city (such as his reconstructed plan of the Forum Romanum), which were inspired by the surviving fragments of the ancient Severan Forma Urbis engraved on marble slabs (of which the Ichnographia was imagined to be a lost part), Piranesi was reinventing Rome on the basis of a polemical translation of modern design principles made suitable for modern times. He was challenging the architects of his generation.
Alex Krieger, "Between The Crusaders' Jerusalem and Piranesi's Rome" in Form, Modernism, and History (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996), p. 156.
For me, [the Piranesi drawing of the Campo Marzio] possesses a notion of criticality and autonomy in its notion of autonomous time, in its movement of buildings, in its invention of buildings, in its denial of the hierarchy of the baroque city. In all of these it transgresses the established norms of the time to establish an autonomous discourse of architectural time.
Peter Eisenman in Autonomy and Ideology: positioning an avant-garde in America (New York: The Monacelli Press, 1997), p. 79.