John Wilton-Ely

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

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During these years Piranesi's close friendship with the young Scottish architect Robert Adam was to provide an important source of encouragement in this speculative activity. In the Preface to the Antichità Romane of 1756 Piranesi had seized the opportunity once more to condemn the limited outlook of the contemporary architectural profession. In this respect he clearly recognised in Adam a kindred spirit who also saw the creative potential of archaeology as well as its practical application to the problems of modern design. A visual tribute to Adam was significantly included in the Via Appia fantasy which, as a secondary frontispiece to Volume II of the Antichità, opens a section demonstrating the imaginative range of Roman funerary architecture.10 Meanwhile Adam's correspondence at this time reveals that Piranesi was already working on a giant master-plan which was originally intended to be an important part of the Antichità and which Piranesi had resolved to dedicate to the Scot.11 This plan was none other than the Ichnographia which Piranesi was to separate from the Antichità and eventually to publish as the key element in the Campo Marzio treatise, also dedicated to Adam, in 1762.12 This plan's lengthy gestation is indicated by the fact that Adam records seeing Piranesi at work on the dedicatory tablet of the Ichnographia in his studio during April 1757 when the Scot paid a farewell visit before returning to Britain.13 This is independently corroborated by the date MDCCLVII appearing on the left-hand medallion in this tablet.

10   According to Adam, writing in April 1756, «in one of the frontispieces representing the Appian Way in all its ancient splendour, with ail the mausoleums of the Consuls, Emperors &ca., he [Piranesi] has taken the occasion to put in Ramsay's name and mine, with our Elogiums, as if buried in these tombs» (J. Fleming, Robert Adam and his Circle in Edinburgh and Rome, London 1962, p. 207). Adam's relationship with Piranesi is also discussed in " D. Stillman, Robert Adam and Piranesi in Essays Presented to Rudolf Wittkower (ed. D. Fraser), London 1967, pp. 197 ff. which also illustrates one of two architectural fantasies sketched by Piranesi for the Scottish architect, now in the Soane Museum, London.

11   The first surviving reference ot the future Ichnograpbia of the Campo Marzio in Robert Adam's correspondence occurs in a letter to his brother James written on June 18 1755. According to Robert, Piranesi «threatens dedicating his next plan of ancient Rome to me, but of this I have no certainty ...» (Fleming, op. cit., p. 354). Subsequently, on July 5 1755, he wrote: «You will soon see my name in print as Piranesi has absolutely rejected the Cardinal he intended to dedicate his plan of ancient Rome to and has dedicated it to me under the name of Architect, Friend and Most Knowing in and Lover of the Antique» (In.).

12   Although the master-plan had clearly been intended to form part of the Antichità Romane, in a letter of September 13 1755 Adam describes how he had «got» Piranesi «to finish the whole of Rome and to publish it alone without joining it in a book whose principal dedication was to my Lord Charlemont, which made mine less regarded, whereas mine being sold separate all the world will purchase it and have no other name to detract from the honour of the intention» (Fleming, op. cit., p. 354). The plan was still unfinished in May 1756 when it was described in the Preface to the newly-published Antichità as «il grande Iconografia di Roma antica che sto in procinto di dare alla luce» (Vol. I, p. 40).

13   In a letter of April 9 1757 Adam describes finding Piranesi at work on the dedicatory tablet to the Ichnographia which was engraved «in the most simple way could be invented in Latin to this purpose: To Robert Adam Britain, Patron of Architecture, This plate of Campus Martius is dedicated by John Batista Piranesi. Then on a freize above is a medal, where Fame points to a piece of architecture and leans on my shoulder in the attitude of going off to proclaim my praises. Round the medal is this inscription: Robert Adam Architect, Member of the Academy of St. Luke at Rome and of Florence and of the Institute of Bologna--all in Latin. In another medal Piranesi has put my head and his own joined, forming a Janus or double-faced head, with both the names of the dedicator and dedicated on it, but this was not finished when I saw it» (Fleming, op. cit., p. 231). The janus-headed composition described in the right-hand medallion in the dedicatory tablet appears to have been replaced in the published work by a version with superimposed heads of Adam and Piranesi. Meanwhile the Scot appears to have asked the artist to feature him in the preface to the Campo Marzio as well and on a further visit to Piranesi's studio was pleased to read «many handsome compliments as to the extraordinariness of my genius and the unblemished probity of my character that envy durst not dare attack» (In.).




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