John Wilton-Ely

Utopia or Megalopolis? The Ichnographia of Piranesi's Campus Martius Reconsidered

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1908,0616.30   Giovanni Battista Piranesi   An atrium with Doric columns   Pen and brown ink, brown wash, over traces of black chalk   Verso: A ground plan for a church   Pen and brown ink   As Andrew Robison first noted, this is a preliminary study for plate 12 of the first edition of the 'Prima Parte' issued in 1743 (J. Wilton-Ely, 'Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the complete etchings', San Francisco, 1994, I, no. 15, p. 34). In contrast to 1908-6-16-28 (the other BM 'Prima Parte' study) this appears to have been drawn specifically for the print. Piranesi began with a few chalk lines, and then started in pen to describe an atrium of Doric columns raised on a platform of two steps. Before the next stage of adding the wash he decided that only two panels of the ceiling should be visible, making this alteration clear by the horizontal line and the absence of wash above this point. He had thought of having three columns in the right foreground but changed his mind, roughly crossing out the nearmost one and adding a vertical line to the left of it to show where the composition ended. The related print is in the same direction as the drawing, and differs from it in the addition of some statues in the foreground area and making the building in the background another Doric atrium. The groundplan on the verso may well relate, as Croft-Murray suggested in the 1968 catalogue, to the building shown on the recto.

1908,0616.23   Giovanni Battista Piranesi   Interior with columns under a vaulted arcade, and other sketches   Pen and brown ink, with brown and grey wash, and black chalk   Verso: Architectural sketches including a ground plan for a centrally planned Greek Cross church   Pen and brown ink   This and 1908,0616.22 are similar to the two BM drawings (1908,0616.28 and 30) related to the print series 'Prima Parte di Architettura, e Prospettive' of 1743, and must date from around the same year. The composition bears a general resemblance to the 'Prima Parte' print of a vestibule of an ancient temple (J. Wilton-Ely, 'Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the complete etchings', San Francisco, 1994, I, no. 13, p. 32). The manner in which Piranesi reduced the composition by drawing horizontal lines at the top, only sketching in the barest outlines above it, is very much like 1908,0616.30.

In the Prima Parte Piranesi, while thanking Nicola Giobbe for his early support and encouragement, castigated modern Roman architects and their patrons for lacking the imagination and vision in failing to respond to the challenge of the ruined antiquity surrounding them. As the young Venetian designer explained, he had no alternative in this sterile situation, but to find an outlet for his ideas in visionary schemes.3 Piranesi's serious intentions can be in no doubt for, on the evidence of surviving sketches in the British Museum it is clear that he worked out certain of his architectural fantasies in plan, section and elevation as a necessary part of this experimental process.4

3   «Io non vi starò a ridìre la meraviglia, che n'ebbi osservando d'appresso, o l'esattissima perfezione delle architettoniche parti degli Edifizi, la rarità, o la smisurata mole de' marmi che in ogni parte rincontransi, o pure quella vasta ampiezza di spazio, che una volta occupavano i Circhi, i Fori, 0 gl'Imperiali Palagi: io vi dirò solamente, che di tali immagini mi hanno riempiuto lo spirito queste parlanti ruine, che di simili non arrivai a potermene mai formare sopra i disegni, benché accuratissimi, che di queste stesse ha fatto l'immortale Palladio, e che io pur sempre mi teneva innanzi agli occhi. Quindi è ch'essendomi venuto in pensiero di fame palesi al Mondo alcune di queste: ned essendo sperabile a un Architetto di questi tempi, di poterne effettivamente eseguire alcuna: sia poi ella colpa, o dell'Architettura medesima caduta da quella beata perfezione a cui fu portata ne' tempi delIa maggiore grandezza della Romana Repubblica, e in quelli de' potentissimi Cesari, che le succedettero: o pure ella sia coipa ancore di quelli che farsi dovrebbono Mecanati di questa nobilissima facoltà: il vero si è, che non vedendosi a nostri giorni Edifizi, che portino il dispendio, che richerebbe per esempio un Foro di Nerva, un Anfiteatro di Vespasiano, un Palazzo ill Nerone; ned apparendo de' Principi, o ne' privati disposzione a farneli vedere; altro partito non veggo restare a me, e a qualsivoglia altro Architetto moderno, che spiegare con disegni le proprie idee, e sottrarre in questo modo alla Scu1tura, e alia Pittura l'avvantaggio, che come dicea il grande Juvara, hanno in questa parte sopra l'Architettura; e per sottrarla altresì dall'arbitrario di coloro, me i tesori posseggono; e chi si fanno a credere di potere a loro talento disporre delle operazioni delIa medesima». (Prima Parte di Architetture e Prospettiue, 1743).

4   A sketch plan in the British Museum (1908-6-16-30 verso: fig. 142) appears to be related to a series of interior fantasies on the theme of a temple or basilica with flanking aisles viewed along the major axis which is finally resolved in the etched Vestibolo d'antico tempio of the Prima Parte (Focillon 12); see exhibition catalogue, Piranesi (ed. J. Wilton-Ely), Arts Council of Great Britain, Hayward Gallery, London 1978, pp. 21-22 (nos. 31, 32b and 33). The plans and, possibly, the fragmentary perspective in another British Museum drawing (1908-6-16-23: fig. 143) also appear to be related to the same design exercise.

digital Italian to English translation
I will not be there to laugh at the amazement which I had observing from it, or the very exact perfection of the architectural parts of the Edifizi, the rarity, or the immeasurable mass of the marbles that in every part reincontrans, or even that vast amplitude of space, which once occupied the Cirques, the Forums, or the Imperial Palagi: I will only tell you, that these talking ruins have filled my spirit with such images, which I never managed to form on the drawings with similar images, although very accurate, that of these same has made the immortal Palladio, and that I still kept in front of my eyes. So it is that having come to the thought of hunger, some of these are evident to the world: and it being hoped for an Architect of these times, that he will actually be able to perform any: either the fault, or the Architecture itself fallen from that blissful perfection to which it was brought in the times of the greater greatness of Roman Republic, and in those of the most powerful Caesars, who succeeded her: or may she be still coipa of those who should be Mecanati of this most noble faculty: the truth is, that not seeing Edifizi in our day, which bring the expense, which would require for example a Forum of Nerva, a Amphitheater of Vespasiano, a palace of Nero; ned appearing of the Princes, or in private disposition to let them see; I don't see any other party staying with me, and to any other modern architect who can explain his ideas with drawings, and in this way take the advantage away from school and painting, which, as the great Juvara said, have in this part above the Architecture; and also to remove it from the arbitrary of those, I possess treasures; and who they make themselves believe that they can dispose of the operations of the same to their talent.




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