John Wilton-Ely

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

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Moreover, the Ichnographia, far from being an isolated work was to be carefully integrated into the resulting treatise as the visual climax to a book polemically concerned with tracing the evolution of the Roman genius for planning. Sequences of plates were Piranesi's favourite means of visual argument and the Ichnographia (formed by pls. V-X combined), representing Rome in the Late Empire, is preceded by a series of plans showing the dramatic flowering of urban magnificence from primitive beginnings on the banks of the Tiber. In this particular respect the Ichnographia, as the salient feature of the Campo Marzio, should be seen as a conscious rejoinder to Winckelmann's interpretation of the evolution of classical antiquity as subsequently defined in the Anmerkungen über die Baukunst der Alten of 1762. In this publication the German scholar considered that a decline in taste was indicated by increasing richness and complexity.14 Piranesi, on the contrary, believed that fertility of invention and experiment were vitally necessary to the advance of modern architectural and urban design as a living syste--an opinion which he was later to emphasize in the debate of the Parere su l'Architettura in 1765 when Didascolo refers to the examples of Bernini and Borrornini.15

14   In Winckelmann's view «architecture suffered the same fate as the old languages, which became richer when they lost their beauty; this can be proved by the Greek as well as the Roman language, and as architects could neither equal nor surpass their predecessors in beauty, they tried to show that they were richer» (as quoted from the translation by S. Powell of a passage from the Anmerkungen über die Baukunst der Alten, Leipzig 1762, in D. Irwin (ed.), Winckelmann. Writings on Art, London 1972, p. 87).

15   According to Didascolo: «Vorrete dire i Bernini, i Boromini [sic], e quanti altri hanno operato senza pensare, che gli ornamenti debbono nascere da ciò che costituisce l'Architettura; ma in costoro chi vi credete di biasimare? Il più grande Architetto, che vi sia stato, voi biasimate ache sia per esservi, Biasimate l'esperienza di quella moltitudine di professori che, da quando fu inventato un tal genere d'Architettura, finché non resto sepoltofra le rovine, fece sernpre così: di quella moltitudine che, dopo rifurto codesto genere, non seppe ne ha saputo fare altrimenti» (Parere su l'Architettura, 1765, p. 12).




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