Encyclopedia Ichnographica

Dixon, Susan M.


Dixon, Susan M.

life, death, and the triumphal way [inversion]

I spoke with Sue Dixon yesterday and told her of my latest "discoveries" regarding the life and death axes of the Ichnographia, the arch of Theodosius et al and the further symbolism of the Porticus Neronianae as an inverted basilica-cross. She too became excited by my discoveries and then also brought further insight, especially in reference to the issue of the papacy and its research during the eighteenth century into the early Christian Church. She spoke of Bianchini and his nephew (a contemporary of Piranesi's) and their dual volumes of pagan (Roman) and Christian art, and she also mentioned how the papacy of the eighteenth century had lost (more or less by force and financial restraints) much of its political power and thus took on a very pious role--exhibiting not its worldly power but its almost mystical or spiritual power.

What I was saying about the apparent Pagan-Christian conversion-inversion narrative of the Ichnographia fit with what research Sue is continually doing regarding the contemporary and early eighteenth century influences on Piranesi and the whole issue of proto-archeology - history of the eighteenth century.

After speaking with Sue, I began thinking of the significance of the arch to the victory over Judea that is situated to the western end of the Bustum Hadriani. I now see it related to the pagan-Christian conversion-inversion of Rome, but in terms of Roman history it is a somewhat marginal issue-event. Yet, in terms of Christianity, the Roman victory over Judea, and hence the fall of Jerusalem, is a significant, albeit still sorrowful, event because of this event's relationship, and indeed verification of certain-particular passages of New Testament Scripture, i.e., Jesus' answering the Apostles question of when Jerusalem would end (which I think is in Mark or the Acts of the Apostles). Seeing how a seemingly minor event in Roman (Imperial) history can at the same time be a critical event for the foundation of Christianity made me think about how the Roman Judaic victory unwittingly gave manifest confirmation that Christianity had from that point forward absorbed Judaism.

Although it comes from the margin or edge, the significance of the victory of Judea arch sheds a major light upon the narrative Piranesi tells--Piranesi's "story" is about Christianity's similar absorption and concomitant destruction of paganism. This notion of Christianity absorbing both Judaism and paganism has major theological implications, especially with regard to a heretofore perhaps ignored importance-significance of Rome and the Roman Empire within the Canon and doctrine of the Christian (Catholic) faith.

...the real axis of St. Peter's Basilica and Square. This axis is fundamental to Piranesi' axis of life--and the most significant point alone the existing axis is the burial place of St. Peter, which, although not noted in the Ichnographia, is nonetheless an ancient Roman artifact.

...the story of the Triumphal Way. ...follow the triumphal path on the plan, and explain the entire route in Roman-pagan-triumphal ritual terms. ...bring up the essential concept of reenactment, the reenactment that Piranesi here designed, especially the well planned sequence of stadia and theaters along the way. Piranesi made use of what was actually once there.

When the route reaches the wall at the Temple of Janus, attention turns to Triumphal Arch-Gate, which is closed during the years of inactivity. Does the Triumphal Way then bounce off the wall and go back the way it came? Does the Temple of Janus allow us to go in either direction? (Other clues of inversion abound: obelisk in the Horti Salustiani, Porticus Phillippi, the Arches along the Via Lata, the Via Flaminia, the Circus Flaminia, the obelisks at Augustus's Tomb. The recurring inversion theme points to a greater meaning/symbolism.) The Temple (arch) of Janus represents the Arch of Janus built by Constantine (who might himself be called the Janus figure of Christianity) and this is the initiation of the way of Christianity's triumph: the profane to the sacred; the forest, hell, purgatory, heaven; the path of salvation through Christ and the Church.)

...the way from the profane to the sacred ends at the Area-Templum Martis as symbolic of the union of the most sacred site ancient Rome (or at least its point of origin) with the most sacred site of Christian Rome (St. Peter's place of burial) and also the point of origin of Christian Rome.

The garden of Nero is the ultimate field of inversion: Horti Neroniani to Vatican City, the garden of antichrist to the Church as the Body of Christ, the foremost seat of the Church of Christ, and finally St. Peter's inverted crucifixion begins the conversion of Rome.

I will conclude the inversion from pagan to Christian story-line by returning to the axis of death and the Arch of Theodosius et al at its tip, and thus when compared with the intercourse building we have depicted the beginning and the end of pagan Rome. To this I will add the Jewish Victory monument and end with the notion that Piranesi has here used architectural plans and urban design to tell the "history" of ancient Rome, however, one has in a sense read both the "positive" and the "negative" image-plan -- a story where the first half is the reciprocal of the second half (and vice versa). (I am oddly reminded here of the double theaters story from Circle and Oval in St. Peter's Square.)

The City of God - inverse ichnographia

...The City of God, a connection between it and the Ichnographia. Sue Dixon mentioned a specific quotation where there is even a grammatical inversion used to describe the two natures of the city (the earthly vs. the spiritual). ...hopefully demonstrate how the Ichnographia represents both "urban" paradigms; the Ichnographia is a plan of earthly Rome and it is also an opposite/inverse plan of spiritual Rome. Piranesi was trying to deliver both messages, meaning he was aware of the two "urban" paradigms and thus used the "planning" of the Campo Marzio to express both.

...the time-frame of the Arch of Theodosius (the end of the Roman Campo Marzio), the Visigoth siege on Rome, and the subsequent writing of The City of God--these events occurred within a 40 year time-span. Piranesi was trying to depict, delineate, reconstruct, reenact the inversion from Imperial Rome to the spiritual Rome of the Church. Along with this line of thought there is also the not-so-smooth conversion of Rome from a pagan state to a Christian state.

From: Susan M. Dixon
Subject: Re: in the mail, etc.
Date: 1998.02.24

Just received them today! Thanks. I probably won't get to them for a while because I'm off to Toronto tomorrow. But they look interesting!

The translation reads: The Circus Apollinare of "Domizia" ([reference in] Procopius [he's the biographer of the Emp. Justinian, c. 527-40, and his famous book is On Building in which he describes Hagia Sophia], in the book On the Gothic wars [beats me, I didn't know he wrote such a book] P.S. There is another Procopius!! an emperor after Constantine, born 326 and died 366! He's more likely the author of this On the Gothic Wars. The ruins of this circus were uncovered 18 years ago in the site where we have drawn it, and where they are noted by Nolli in his plan of modern Rome. Fulvio (I think he means Fulvio Orsini, an archaeologist of the late 16th century) speaks of this, when he says "here rest still, outside the gate of Castello or Porta Castello, in those nearby vineyards, not far from Hadrian's tomb, a little form/outline of a circus made of black hard stone (actually I think pietra nera e dura is a type of stone that is black and hard rather than just any old black and hard stone) that is almost totally ruined.

I'm curious about the labeling of "Domitae" on the map, and the reference to the Italian "Domizia" in the text. I've never seen a reference to that stadium as other than the Stadium of Domitian, in all my 16th and 17th-century guidebooks. But then, I've never read this Procopius. But my thoughts are as follows:

a) -ae is the Latin ending denoting the possessive of a feminine noun. But Nerva's stuff gets called Nervae, and there is a grammatical oddity that gender of words/signifier doesn't always have anything to do with gender of the signified.

b) Piranesi clearly knew that the translation of Domitian in Italian is "Domiziano", and not "Domizia" because he uses "Domiziano" in his text.

c) He doesn't mention this stadium/circus at all in the text, but it should have been in ch. 6.

d) The Romans were very good at naming buildings after family members, as you probably know. In fact, the famous Basilica Marciana is named after some female relative of Caesar Augustus. In his text, Piranesi cites plenty of other examples of buildings named after imperial women.

e) The Domitia I know is the wife of Domitian, and is suspected of helping assassinate him. She might be the same one you've found that is related to Nero.

and finally:
f) It's really too much for me to sort through at the moment, and without the Procopius text, I'm not willing to make any big deal about it. It still looks like the stadium that everyone else refers to as Domitian's to me.

"If nothing else, Piranesi certainly keeps us "digging"! Hope you enjoy the articles."
He certainly does that! Sue

To: Susan M. Dixon
Subject: interesting interesting
Date: 1998.02.24

Hi Sue,
Thanks for providing the translation; it is all very interesting, and, like you say, a lot to sort through.

I should have mentioned that I found Domitae and her garden referenced in the 1904(?) Rome Topography guide by Plattner that I told you I found at Paley Library this past summer. Domitae (Nero's aunt) and her garden are further referenced (through Plattner) in Tacitus (and I think one other source -- I don't have the text in front of me) when apparently Tacitus mentions that Nero had Domitae killed and then took her garden, which he then added to his own garden along with the adjacent garden of Agripinnae (Nero's mother) whose garden Nero also took after he had his mother killed. Ultimately, that whole area in the Ichnographia west of the Tiber became the Gardens of Nero, and thus seems to have remained Imperial property at least down until the time of Constantine.

I agree with you that there is much to feel ambiguous about, and I think there is even room for speculation as to whether Piranesi was even trying to intentionally confuse the issue. In the end, however, if there indeed was a circus in the garden of Domitae (besides the Circus Hadriani and regardless of who it was named for), then Piranesi's delineation of two circuses within the area of Hadrian's tomb is not a pure fantasy!

phone conversation with Sue Dixon

I spoke with Sue last Tuesday night, and it was the first time in several months--the first time since I did all the Latin translating. I told her practically everything new that I found and/or figured out, and a few ideas came out of the conversation as well.

1. the notion that the moat around the Bustum Hadriani could represent the limits that Hadrian himself put upon the Empire.

2. where the Bustum Hadriani is within square precinct limits, the Bustum Caesaris Augusti is outside circular precinct limits. This is another example of the two Busti being inversions of each other.

4. Sue had a clear notion of what Tafuri means with regard to Piranesi's loss of language, in that [Tafuri thought] Piranesi was engrossed in mere words (the individual plans of the Ichnographia) and thereby lost or disregarded the notion of composing cohesive sentences, i.e., a workable and properly planned urban design. We agree that Tafuri's interpretation is indeed wrong because Piranesi's plan is a dense and complex narrative.

not Tampa, Florida anymore
2002.01.10 00:40

I'm glad you found some useful information, and I hope it helps toward some resolution to how you see that reenactment (potentially) relates to predestination and psychology. I haven't been coming to reenactment from that angle, so I don't even understand exactly what you're seeing. (But that doesn't at all mean that I think what you're seeing is somehow wrong or misinterpreting.)

I'll try to briefly outline (reenact) how I came to see a strong relationship between reenactment and (some but certainly not all aspects of) design.

I began redrawing Piranesi's Campo Marzio plan with CAD in 1987. I've been fascinated with this plan since the late 1970's, and I saw the opportunity to utilize the automated drawing/drafting capabilities of CAD in (re)drawing all the complicated individual plans of the Campo Marzio, which comprise many repetitive units, and manipulating repetitive units is precisely one of the things CAD is very good at facilitating.

In the early 1990s I begin an intensive redrawing of the plan, and at the same time I became reacquainted with Susan Dixon, a friend from my college days who went on to get a Ph.D. in Art History, and her dissertation was on Piranesi's archaeological publications, of which the Il Campo Marzio is one. Together (via phone conversations) Susan and I begin speculating as to what the meaning of the Campo Marzio plan might be. Many theories were speculatively put forth, but reenactment was never one of them.

The second week of August 1997 I split my energies between doing research on the Campo Marzio and research on the philosophy of history as it might relate to my theory of chronosomatics. In Encyclopedia Britannica (edition 1969) under "Philosophy of History" there is a passage explaining Vico which, while reading it, made me think of Piranesi's Campo Marzio. There is also a list of 20th century philosophers of history and the titles of the works. Collingwood's The Idea of History is among these. I go to Barnes and Nobles that same day and buy Vico's New Science and Collingwood's The Idea of History. I read the passages in The Idea of History that deal with reenactment. It dawns on me that I've been doing a kind of reenactment by redrawing Piranesi's plan.

Thursday, September 4, 1997 (coincidentally the day architect Aldo Rossi died) I find Plattus's "Passages to the City: The Interpretive Function of the Roman Triumph" in Ritual (1983). I finish reading the essay Friday night. Saturday morning I watch Diana's funeral, and it quickly hits me that I am watching exactly what I just spent the last two nights reading about. Since Piranesi himself delineated the path of the Triumphal Way through his plan of the Campo Marzio, I begin to wonder whether Piranesi too was playing some kind of reenactment game in his redrawing of the large urban plan.

It is after this point that much of the prior ten year's work begins tightly piecing together, and the notion of reenactment also aids in better understanding what information I collected further in research.

For me, reenactment was a learning tool, albeit for the most part a tool I didn't even know I was using. For Piranesi, however, (and this is what I've come to understand) reenactment was a design tool, specifically an urban design tool, whereby he generated an entirely new rendition of Rome. A Rome, moreover, that is essentially a conglomeration of many specifically themed environments, i.e., themed environments that relate exactly the history of the very places where Piranesi positioned his new designs. This is why I say Piranesi's Campo Marzio is not a reconstruction, rather a reenactment. By all indications, Piranesi was very conscious of the play of degrees of separation that reenactments involve.

Piranesi also (re)designed the city of Rome as a double (history) theater, namely the double theater of Rome's Pagan and Christian existence.

research assisance
2002.10.26 13:55

Hi Sue, as promised the following is some data retrieved from my collected xeroxes of material pertaining to the Campo Marzio, which may be useful to your present work regarding Piranesi and the Pantheon.

1. Samuel Ball Platner in The Topography and Monuments of Ancient Rome (1904) gives a concise description of the:
Basilica Matidiae, basilica Marcianae. These two basilicas were between the Pantheon, the north end of the Saepta, and the column of Aurelius. One of them was named from Matidia, the mother-in-law of Hadrian, and the other from Marciania, the sister of Trajan. They probably formed one group with the temple of Hadrian. Some cipollino columns that have been found just north of the via dei Pastini, between the Pantheon and the vicolo della Spada d' Orlando, undoubtedly belong to one of them.

2. The book on Hadrian I mentioned is:
Anthony R. Birley, Hadrian: The Restless Emperor (NY: Routledge, 1997). Chapter Two, "The Campus Martius" is all about Hadrian's architecture/building activity within the Campo. One illustration is of a reconstruction of the "South Building" once attached(?) to the south of the Pantheon. The plan of this building matches the 'Xystus' Piranesi delineates within the Ichnographia. The "South Building" is often referred to as the Basilica Neptuni, and, for the record, Piranesi positioned the Basilica Neptuni somewhere else within the Ichnographia, that is, just east of the large sundail.

3. According to Freund's Latin Dictionary:
- among the Greeks, a covered portico or gallery, where athletes exercised in winter
- among the Romans, an open colonnade or portico, or a walk planted with trees, etc., for recreation, conversation, philosophical discussion, etc.

4. I made a cursory overview of Aitken's thesis and I found no direct mention/analysis of the Pantheon complex within the Ichnographia, nor did there seem to be any mention within Aitken's treatment of the Campo Marzio text that Piranesi intended to publish a separate volume on the Pantheon.

Re: research assistance
2002.10.27 13:50

The Basilica Neptuni seems to be a building that Piranesi 'played' with within the Ichnographia. According to Nash's Pictorial Dictionary, Palladio drew a plan of the Basilica Neptuni (as illustrated therein), and Piranesi obviously knew this plan because he used it [and labeled it Xystus] within the Ichnographia. In my experience, whenever Piranesi makes what seems to be an obvious mistake within the Ichnographia, that's usually a sign that Piranesi is playing a(n inversion) game. That may not be the case here, but you should at least be aware of the (intentional?) transposition of buildings.

Platner also has some to say about the Basilica Neptuni, as I'm sure other sources do as well.

From the 'Catalogo' of the Campo Marzio:
Basilica di Nettuno, «El Sparzian. in Adriano» Vegessi Portico di Nettuno. --I assume this is a reference to the Hadrian biography within the Historia Augustus.



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