Encyclopedia Ichnographica

scale, comparative


scale, comparative

Piranesian gigantism

Piranesi's Campo Marzio is full of gigantic plans that are on a scale virtually unrealized in actual built architecture. In simple terms, this overuse of size can represent Piranesi's wish to express the grandness of ancient Rome. Beyond that, it is at this point difficult to make any other interpretation. The real issue seems to be that when so many gigantic plans are seen together, the sense of actual scale is lost. The large plans themselves quite naturally are in turn perceived as buildings that are only something like half their actual size. I think this normal misinterpretation of scale is part of the general enigma that the plan of the Campo Marzio conjures up. The plan seems to have multiple layers of unfathomability, and the ambiguity of scale is indeed one of these layers.

1fathom 1 a obs : a full stretch of the arms in a straight line; also : GRASP, REACH   b : intellectual grasp, penetration or profundity : COMPREHENSION   2 a : a unit of length equal to 6 feet based on the distance between finger tips of a man's outstretched arms and used esp. for measuring the depth of water -- sometimes used in the singular when qualified by a number   b archaic : any of several units of length varying around 5 and 51/2 feet

2fathom 1 archaic : to encircle (as for measuring) with outstretched arms   2 a : to measure by a sounding line   b : to penetrate (as a mystery) and come to understand : comprehend where one had not understood previously : get to the bottom of ~ vi : to take soundings; also : PROBE, INVESTIGATE

fathomable 1 : that can be sounded   2 : capable of being comprehended


unfathomed 1 : not fathomed : UNSOUNDED   2 : UNDETERMINED, IMMENSE

The gigantism of Piranesi's Campo Marzio becomes perfectly evident when it is compared with other urban plans at the same scale. I have already done some comparative analysis between the Campo Marzio and parts of Center City Philadelphia, particularly the area around the Philadelphia Museum of Art because that building and the plan of the Benj. Franklin Parkway are themselves, in general, fine examples of an urban design gigantism practiced in America in the early twentieth century. I will have to do more drawings that show greater amounts of area, and I shall perhaps also compose some overlay drawings (meaning superimposed plans).

If anything, this exercise would be a lesson in scale and, in particular, gigantic scale. It could perhaps lead to a better understanding of Piranesi's intention and his ideas on urbanism, and it might also lead to a fine understanding of urban scale in general, where the Campo Marzio may actually shed some light on the urban situation of some actual cities, in this case, Philadelphia.

[scale] ideas   3138

from smallest to largest

...idea of presenting as many Campo Marzio plans as possible in order of size from smallest to largest. Again, I have no idea what the lesson is supposed to be, but I think it will actually show something that has never been seen before. Of course, gigantism will still be the primary object lesson concerning the Campo Marzio, but I might find out that the smallest buildings (crypts, tombs) are even larger than most normal sized buildings.

gigantism of Piranesi's Campo Marzio

...the gigantism of Piranesi's Campo Marzio.
1. ...a specific section of the Campo Marzio and on this plan will be superimposed the plans of the elevational group, spread out as they actually are in the elevational setting. ...also an overlay of the Giza complex.

2. ...a plan of the Parkway area of Center City Philadelphia with the building footprints x-hatched, ...the same scale as the Campo Marzio section.

3. ...the Philadelphia street grid superimposed on the Campo Marzio.

4. ...x-hatched building footprints of Philadelphia superimposed on the Campo Marzio. Where the former drawing demonstrates the relationship between a modern city street grid and the Campo Marzio, this drawing will demonstrate a comparison/contrast between the Campo Marzio and another form of urban density.

5. ...the Viosin Plan of Paris, at the same scale as the Campo Marzio section.

6. ...the Viosin Plan superimposed on the Campo Marzio.

Points of Departure

I have decided to put together a critical essay regarding my interpretations and disputations of the contemporary existing texts on the Ichnographia. It will be called "Points of Departure"...

...this combined presentation technique may also follow Piranesi's methodology, thus offering the possibility of a further "re-enactment".

In thinking of the typologies... ...regard to Tafuri's comments of the Ichnographia being a sample book and something unknowable. ...the [scale] comparison between St. Peter's and the Bustum Hadriani is a perfect place to start, although I could also compare the Ichnographia plans to other ancient Roman plans, particularly the large baths. Such drawings would refute Tafuri's and Bloomer's statements regarding the smallness (and seemingly insignificantly treated Pantheon and tomb of Hadrian).

...Piranesi's cribbing of the Porticus Aemilia for the Septa Julia may actually represent Piranesi's scale for the entire Ichnographia. It could be that Piranesi very purposefully installed the Forma Urbis fragment of the Porticus Aemilia into the Ichnographia for the precise purpose of demonstrating more of the actual scale (and gigantism) of ancient Rome (--it is as if Piranesi is here illustrating his own quote about how one just has to look around at Rome and Hadrian's Villa to see the examples he emulates.) Piranesi was not being deceptive or misleading, nor was he acting out of ignorance of the fragment's true identity. Piranesi used the Porticus Aemilia as evidence and example.

as dense as architecture can get?
2000.01.10 00:26

As to wondering about the 'easy' play with scale's relative to Piranesi's Campo Marzio, in part you guess correctly. I say in part because when Piranesi delineates the Campus Martius proper, he more often than not uses the correct scale for the buildings that once existed there. Piranesi grossly exaggerates building scale in the Campo Marzio's outer regions, however. Nonetheless, Piranesi is deliberately 'playing' a learning game here, in that the outer regions is where Piranesi's plans and programs lack practially all veracity, hence, the hyperbole of Piranesi's architectural imagination is coded by a hyperbole of architectural scale. In simple terms, the over-sized plans of the Campo Marzio indicate buildings that Piranesi completely 'made-up', where as a high percentage of the smaller building plans indicate buildings that actually once existed and are drawn at their proper scale. (Mind you, the drawn plans of the once existing buildings, even though at a correct scale, are still often individual plans of Piranesi's invention.)



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