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Inside the Density of G. B. Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius

love   1 a : the attraction, desire, or affection felt for a person who arouses delight or admiration or elicits tenderness, sympathetic interest, or benevolence     2 a : warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion     4 a : the attraction based on sexual desire

war   1 a (1) : a state of usu. open and declared armed hostile conflict between political units (2) : a period of armed conflict between political units     2 a : a state of hostility, conflict, opposition, or antagonism between mental, physical, social, or other forces

Within the northernmost region of the Ichnographia, Piranesi positions two of Rome's oldest topological features, the Equiria and the Petronia Amnis. The Equiria was ancient Rome's first festival in the form of horse races instituted by Romulus in honor of Mars, and the name Equiria applies to the festival as well the racecourse that Piranesi delineates. The Petronia Amnis was a stream that once came from a spring on the Quirinal and flowed through the Campus Martius. Although genuine historical phenomena, Piranesi's presentations of the Equiria and the Petronia Amnis are altogether false in terms of their geographic location within the Ichnographia. Both the course of the horse races and the course of the stream should be further south and within the Campus Martius proper, and this is yet another example where what seems to be a blatant mistake on Piranesi's part is actually a sign of ulterior, and usually double meanings. Judging in purely visual terms, Piranesi seems to have kept the Equiria and the Petronia Amnis in correct relationship to each other, and then, as a pair, lifted them out of their original context in order to refashion and reposition them in a new location. Essentially, the Equiria and the Petronia Amnis of the Ichnographia are reenactments of their former states.

In reenacting the Equiria and the Petronia Amnis, Piranesi executes each entity with their own respective theme, however, the two themes are in contrast to each other. This contrast is already evident in the Equiria's rigid straightness as opposed to the fluid meanderings of the Petronia Amnis, and it is indeed the antithetical natures of rigidity versus fluidity that Piranesi further develops within the two reenactments.

The orange line indicates the course of the Equiria and the blue line indicates the course of the Petronia Amnis

Although the Equiria festival comprises two separate days of horse racing celebrated once a year, Piranesi transforms the race course into a grand civic allee. There are three enormous public porticos, a gigantic stadium for mock navel battles, a huge military factory, and two expansive parade grounds, plus a factory for making ballistas, a factory for making scorpions, and numerous smaller temples dedicated to various gods, especially those gods that patronize soldiers and sailors. Piranesi not only redesigns the original Equiria into ancient Rome's military headquarters, but he also creates an urban scale tribute to Mars, the war god himself, and thus the new Equiria, straight as an arrow from the very beginning, becomes the axis of war.

the Naumachia Domitiani and the Porticus Vipsania

the Officinae machinarum militarium and the Porticus Alexandri Severi

Atop the bluffs along the south bank of the Petronia Amnis, Piranesi situates a series garden villas among a scattering of other building types. The planning of the villas individually is orderly, if not also symmetrical, yet, in relation to one another, the grouping of the villas appears completely disorganized. Once the names of the various buildings is understood, however, a distinctive pattern develops. The first and largest villa is the Horti Lucullani, the Gardens of L. Licinius Lucullus, which, in 46 AD "belonged to Valerius Asiaticus, but were coveted by Messalina, who compelled the owner to commit suicide."1 Messalena was the nymphomaniac wife of the emperor Claudius. Next to the Horti Lucullani is the plain and simple Horti Narcissi; Narcissus was the name of the freedman of Claudius by whose orders Messalena was put to death. Next to the Horti Narcissi is the triangular Horti Anteri. There was no real garden of Anteri in ancient Rome, but there was such a thing as an anteros, which is an avenger of slighted love, or, in this case, love triangles. Then there is a bath complex in honor of Venus, the love goddess herself, and then a nympheum named for Tiberius, an emperor known for his fondness of pornography. And at the edge of the Ichnographia , there is the Viridarium Lucii Cornificii, a pleasure garden with two building extensions clearly phallic in plan. Finally, among these structures of love and lust are two Turres expugnandae, military defense towers whose plans no doubt represent substantial erections.

Piranesi's reenactment of the Equiria and the Petronia Amnis seems to simlpy say that all is fair in ancient Rome's fluid love and rigid war.

1. Samuel Ball Platner, The Topology and Monuments of Ancient Rome (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1904).

1. Horti Lucullani     2. Horti Narcissi     3. Horti Anteri     4. Balnea Veneris     5. Nymphaum Tiberij     6. Viridarium Lucii Cornificii     7. Turres expugnandae
The blue line indicates the course of the Petronia Amnis.

1999.12.09 11:06
quick response, good trip
Hi Kelly,
Have a good trip. I envy your being able to do such studies/implementations in such an interesting place.

I know of the Metabolists, but not their writing/ideas per say. More recently I've read what Isozaki says in retrospect regarding the Metabolist movement, and there he actually raises the issue of destruction not having been part of the original Metabolist credo, although, as he now sees it, destruction should have been a part of it. What I most like about metabolism as a process is that there has to be both creation and destruction in order for the process to work (otherwise none of us could even literally live). Moreover, I see humanity today demonstrating a high (and rising) degree of metabolic imagination.

I am a registered architect, but I do not 'practice' or teach in any orthodox fashion. The last three years I've devoted to creating as a (actually the first and so far only) virtual museum of architecture. Essentially, I'm continually designing and directing a virtual building, and, according to the feedback I receive, and judging from what my web stats indicate, my 'museum' is viewed in architecture schools all over the globe. Besides that, I like to tell people that I'm retired.

I'll try to write you some more while you're in Vietnam, hoping the email won't be too much of a distraction.

2002.01.19 11:46
Re: lack of life
Sometime in the early 1970s I heard that the first friend of my life went missing, and then a month or so later her body was found in some South Carolina woods near where she and her family had moved to. Janet married quite young (I heard), and also divorced quite young. Her ex-husband was high on the suspect list.

While spending the summer of 1981 in Washington DC, I learned that Jim Williams shot Danny H. and that Jim was accussed of murder. Here I knew (or at least met a few times) both the killed and the killer. You too might know the story by having either read or seen Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil. In the years after jail in the early 1980s, Jim and I shared the same best friend, and thus I then had a closer than usual but still literally distant friendship with Jim. With all the stuff that I (and very few others) know, why aren't I busy trying to write the next record breaking best-seller? I even have copies of letters that Jim wrote while he was in jail, but somehow "laws of silence" unwittingly prevail. One of Jim's favorite phrases was "You don't know a thing." As far as I know, I'm the only person to have said "You don't know a thing" to Jim in the same way he used to say it to others. Another thing that is not generally known is that one of Jim's strongest motivations was to continually "Piss off the right people."

And then in (I think) 1986 Ismael Faruqi and his wife were brutally murdered in their Philadelphia suburban home. I was good friends with their architect-student neice, and even dated one of their daughters a couple of times (I know we at least saw Saturday Night Fever together). Faruqi was the last Palestinian governor of Galilee, and then head of the Religion Department at Temple University. I only learned of Faruqi's past political postition after his death; I certainly didn't know it the night he drove me home after a late night charette.

"And we become these human jukeboxes spitting out these anecdotes!" -- Six Degrees of Separation

Meanwhile (kind of) Theodosius is still lying in state at Milan, and "he's" going to be there for 38 more days. I have no idea why the laying is state is to take so long except that the total forty days may be some kind of reenactment of the forty days Christ spent in the desert, which is today reenacted annually via Lent. Perhaps this was somehow Ambrose's design, because it is interesting that after forty days, Ambrose should then deliver an obituary within which is the story of how the True Cross was found. [Get it? First Lent and then the Crucifixion.]

So, now that you have a fairly good idea of who Ambrose and Theodosius are, it is time to learn more of Honorius (the younger son of Theodosius who is now Emperor of the West) and his wife Maria. Honorius was the last ancient ruler to [re]build the walls of Rome (because of the "Gothic Wars"--Christian "Goths" that is) and he also built an imperial mausoleum attached to the original Basilica of St. Peter's. Sometime in the 1500s the sarcophagus of Maria was discovered (very likely while the old basilica was being demolished to make way for the new/present one). The sarcophagus of Maria may well be the last remaining substantial imperial artifact of (the city of) Rome, and after an illustrious title page and a frontispiece, it is an image of the sarcophagus of Maria that Piranesi uses to begin his Campo Marzio publication. In a most elegantly covert way, Piranesi began the 'history' of the Campo Marzio with what is really it's ending, and what is probably the world's greatest designed architectural inversionary double theater goes on from there.
Stephen Lauf



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