John Wilton-Ely

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

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1632   Baldassare Longhena   Santa Maria della Salute

1642   Francesco Borromini   Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza   source

1750   Giovanni Battista Piranesi   Pianta di ampio magnifico Collegio...

The first mature expression of this creative ferment in the shape of a visionary plan occurs in: Piranesi's etched Pianta di ampio magnifico Collegio, included in the 1750 edition of his Opere Varie. This design originated in a highly imaginative synthesis of Palladian concepts, partly derived from Longhena's Santa Maria della Salute, and ideas drawn from the Roman Baroque of Borromini (notably from Sant'Ivo alla Sapienza), together. with a fund of inspiration gained from the complex planning of the Imperial thermae, then being surveyed by Piranesi.5 That this ambitious production was not a negative exercise is borne out by its contemporary influence on student designers in Rome such as Peyre and Robert Adam.6 Predictably, on the other hand, this ideal plan came under attack by the more conservative architects, as represented by Sir William Chambers's scathing reference to the Collegia in the 1791 edition of his Treatise on Civil Architecture.7

5   The Collegio plan (Opere Varie, Focillon 121) is interpreted by Professor Tafuri as a negative gesture on the part of Piranesi in G. B. Piranesi. L'Architettura come «Utopia Negativa», «Angelus Novus», cit., p. 97. Its positive character, on the other hand, is examined with respect to the plan of Vanvitelli's Caserta in J. Wilton-Ely, The relationship between G. B. Piranesi and Luigi Vanvitelli in 18th-century architectural theory and practice in the forthcoming publication Luigi Vanvitelli e it Settecento europeo (ed, R. Di Stefano), Naples, p. 22: 9. In 1978 at the Piranesi Congress in Venice new light was thrown on the origins of the Collegio plan by Professor Cavicchi and Professor Zamboni in discussing their important discovery of a Piranesi sketch-book in the Biblioteca Estense at Modena which contains a preliminary study for this design (see pp. 188-191, fig. 74).

6   The influence of the Collegio and other such Piranesian planning exercises on J. M. Peyre is discussed in the present author's contributions to the exhibition catalogue, The Age of Neo-classicism, Arts Council of Great Britain, Royal Academy, London 1972, pp. 600-601 (1259 and 1260) and 605-606 (1268). While the impact of the Collegio on Adam's early designs is more diffused, the stimulus of Piranesi's visionary planning is reflected in certain ideal projects among the Adam drawings in the Soane Museum, London, as redrawn in A. T. Bolton, The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, London 1922, Vol. I, p. 18.

7   According to Chambers: «A celebrated Italian Artist whose taste and luxuriance of fancy were unusually great, and the effect of whose compositions on paper has seldom been equalled, knew little of construction or calculation, yet less of the contrivance of habitable structures, or the modes of carrying real works into execution, though styling himself an architect. And when some pensioners of the French Academy at Rome, in the Author's hearing, charged him with ignorance of plans, he composed a very complicated one, since published in his work; which sufficiently proves, that the charge was not altogether groundless» (Treatise on Civil Architecture, London 1791, Introduction, p. 10).




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