Encyclopedia Ichnographica

Tafuri, Manfredo


Tafuri, Manfredo


The following is a exposition and clarification of Tafuri's misinterpretations of Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius:

In Piranesi's Campo Marzio the late Baroque principle of variety is completely rejected. Since Roman antiquity is not only a recollection imbued with nostalgic ideologies and revolutionary expectations, but also a myth to be contested, all forms of classical derivation are treated as mere fragments, as deformed symbols, as hallucinating organisms of an "order" in a state of decay.

Here the order in the details does not produce a simple "tumult in the whole." Rather, it creates a monstrous pullulation of symbols devoid of significance.
Architecture and Utopia, p. 14.

The reality is that the Ichnographia is not an abundant breeding of "symbols devoid of significance," rather a cleverly delineated and labeled narrative of ancient Rome's own Imperial history. Both the many individual building plans and the Latin labels thereof act as a readable text which delivers an accurate historical (and at times even an accurate archeological) account.

In the Campo Marzio we witness an epic representation of the battle of architecture waged against itself. This historically developed language of building types is affirmed here as a superior principle of order, but the configuration of the single building types tends to destroy the very concept of the historically developed language as a whole. History is here invoked as an inherent "value," but Piranesi's paradoxical rejection of historical, archeological reality makes the civic potential of the total image very doubtful. Formal invention seems to declare its own primacy, but the obsessive reiteration of the inventions reduces the whole organism to a sort of gigantic "useless machine.
Architecture and Utopia, p. 15.

It is not true that Piranesi outright rejects historical and archeological reality with regard to "reconstructing" ancient Rome's Campus Martius. In fact, most the buildings labeled within the Ichnographia not only represent buildings that once existed within ancient Rome, but they are for the most part positioned in their respective proper locations. This is not to say, however, that the entire map is "accurate." Many of the individual plans, although designating buildings that once existed, are nonetheless Piranesi's own design creations. As to those portions of the Ichnographia that are purely imaginative and/or inaccurate, it is within these that Piranesi is also the most astute, because it is Piranesi's superficial "mistakes" that signal precisely where to look for a deeper message or meaning regarding ancient Rome's (and particularly the Campus Martius') overall history.

The archeological mask of Piranesi's Campo Marzio fools no one: this is an experimental design and the city, therefore, remains an unknown. Nor is the act of designing capable of defining new constants of order. This colossal piece of bricolage conveys nothing but a self-evident truth: irrational and rational are no longer to be mutually exclusive. Piranesi did not pocess the means for translating the dynamic interrelationships of this contradiction into form. He had, therefore, to limit himself to enunciating emphatically that the great new problem was that of the equilibrium of opposites, which in the city find its appointed place: failure to resolve this problem would mean the destruction of the very concept of architecture.

Essentially it is the struggle between architecture and the city, between the demand for order and the will to formlessness, that assumes epic tone in Piranesi's Campo Marzio. Here the "Enlightenment dialectic" on architecture reached an unsurpassed height; but at the same time it reached an ideal tension so violent that it could not be understood as such by Piranesi's contemporaries. Piranesi's excess--as otherwise the excesses of libertine literature of the era of the philosophes--becomes, just through its excessiveness, the revalation of a truth. But the developments of Enlightenment architecture and city planning were quickly to hide that truth.
Architecture and Utopia, p. 15-16.

It seems clear that it is precisely the "archeological mask" of the Campo Marzio that fooled Tafuri. Piranesi never intended the Ichnographia to be read as an archeological reconstruction, but as a wholly new reenactment of the Campus Martius. Piranesi's "experiment" is not in the design of the Campo Marzio per se, but in his Promethean delivery of historical (and architectural) narrative. As for the city delineated within the Ichnographia remaining an "unknown", this too is false because all one has to do is read (or translate) all the Latin labels within the Ichnographia to know the "city" it depicts.

After reading Piranesi's Campo Marzio properly, the notion of irrationality does not come into play. Piranesi's narrative method is indeed unprecedented, but his message does not carry an overt irrationally, nor even a covert irrationality. This latching on to the notion of irrationality within the Campo Marzio is perhaps Tafuri's most critical mistake because all subsequent reference (within Architecture and Utopia) to the presence of irrationality may be ostensibly based on a misguided and insubstantial premise. Unfortunately, it is Tafuri himself that "did not possess the means for translating the dynamic interrelationships" between plan forms and Latin labels which Piranesi used to "present" his historical narrative.

Interestingly enough, Piranesi did "equate" opposites, but not the opposites of rational and irrational. Piranesi looked to ancient Rome's own history and there recognized the opposites of Paganism and Christianity.

We must verify our observations in the very heart of the structure of the Campo Marzio. 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.
The Sphere and the Labyrinth, p. 34.

In composing the Campo Marzio, Piranesi did not utilize a "method of arbitrary association." What Piranesi did was to carefully link and sometimes even align seemingly individual buildings so that as a result certain groups of buildings generate distinct narratives or meanings. As one penetrates Piranesi's Campo Marzio, it becomes ever clearer that Piranesi rarely positioned building plans within the Ichnographia arbitrarily. As mentioned before, if the building plans do not represent actual structures that once existed in ancient Rome, then they are there performing some part of a specific narrative.

It is regrettable that Tafuri did not recognize the Campo Marzio's true "organic unity."

Only the area of the northeast and the southwest, included in the double bend of the river, seem to be recomposed into structures in some way unitary and well defined: two orthogonal axes, roughly parallel to the course of the river's bend, guide the composition of the Sepulchrum Hadriani [Hadrian's Tomb], of the complex formed by the two circuses of Hadrian and Domitian (sic) [Circus of Domitia], which extend along the axis of the mausoleum, of the Circus Agonnalis, of the Circus Flaminius, of the Templum Martis, of the Gimnasium Neronis, of the Terme [Baths] of Agrippa. A second alignment, regulated by a rectilinear axis, is found in the northeast sector.
The Sphere and the Labyrinth, p. 34.

Through this quotation, Tafuri demonstrates his cursory observational procedure in examining the Campo Marzio. Although he correctly recognizes the axis running through the Bustum Hadriani, Tafuri does not note that this is the axis of death. Moreover, Tafuri does not detect the much longer axis of life that runs perpendicular to the axis of death. Additionally, the axes of the "Circus Agonnalis, of the Circus Flaminius, of the Templum Martis, of the Gimnasium Neronis, of the Terme [Baths] of Agrippa" do not even align let along act in concert with the axis of Hadrian's tomb. Tafuri should have known better than to even write that sentence, especially since he was carelessly copying the mistakes of Fasolo's 1956 text on the Campo Marzio.

As to the so-called "secondary alignment," Tafuri should have plainly cited this "rectilinear axis" as the Equiria, which Piranesi clearly labels as such. Without making the effort to investigate the Equiria, it is then no wonder that Tafuri found Piranesi's Campo Marzio a "formless tangle of spurious organisms."

The "great absentee" from the Campo Marzio, then, is language.
The Sphere and the Labyrinth, p. 38.

Language is certainly present throughout Piranesi's Campo Marzio. First there is the presence of the Latin language with the close to one thousand Latin words that appear as labels throughout the Ichnographia. Second, there is the unique language (and syntax) of Piranesi's individual building plans, which quite often act as pictograms that in turn impart meaning. Taking the Latin labels and the language of the plans together, moreover, delivers the most complete rendition of Piranesi's message.

Re: Response: to lauf-s (i/ii)
1999.06.21 21:24

As to my faulting Tafuri, remember that I only do this relative to Piranesi's Campo Marzio plan, and I fully outlined Tafuri's mistakes on the Campo Marzio within a set of web pages. What Tafuri writes about the Campo Marzio are not mistakes because of my own interpretation of Campo Marzio, but they are mistakes because of what Piranesi actually delineated and labeled in his plan. Tafuri clearly misrepresents what Piranesi did, and all you have to do is look at Piranesi's plan to see where and how Tafuri is wrong there.

1999.07.29 14:28

Generally, Bloomer's treatment of Piranesi's Campo Marzio follows that of Tafuri's, but she investigates some of Piranesi's other work with some originality. She is much better at finding symbolism/hidden meaning in Joyce, however, than she is in finding the same in Piranesi. For her, the (s)crypt(s) signifies a labyrinth (one she often seems lost in herself, even though it is a labyrinth of her own making!). For example, she sees the Campo Marzio plan as representing the labyrinth of the underworld, that place where the [Cartesian] grid/cage of rationality does not apply. Her [s]cryptic efforts getting into this underworld are especially worth reading because it is a thorough aggregate of good research mixed (unfortunately?) with the Tafurian and Derridian agendas (see her treatment of the CM's Terentus occulens aram Ditis et Proserpinae). Inadvertently, however, by going 'underneath' the large plan, she puts all her effort into seeking something that is not there. Essentially, she avoids the real plan itself.



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