Encyclopedia Ichnographica

Fasolo, Vincenzo


Fasolo, Vincenzo

Interpretation of the Campo Marzio of Piranesi

Regarding the actual qualities of an "architect," that is to say in the sense of a creator of ideal forms which have practical ends and the imagination of art, what portion of these characteristics are to be found in the figure and personality of G. B. Piranesi? As engraver, painter-engraver, architectural designer, scholar of Roman construction, in his own way an essayist and archeologist, scenographer, did he also strive for an active, aggressive role in architecture? In short, did he aspire to build as a participant in the architectural movements of his time, for clients who could furnish him themes and commissions equal to his high aspirations and inspirations? Or must his potent charge of architectural knowledge, of architectural dreams and visions, abounding in the immense production of his designs, engravings, and writings, be considered an immense potential which never found favorable conditions for its proper realization? And did he satisfy himself solely through his visions, his evocations, the world which he was discovering in his fascinating soul? Through that world which at that time was being revealed in a new light? Was he but the narrator of a poem about ancient history? These questions may seem superfluous, given the complexity of the Piranesian works, all directed to the study and representation of the architectural monuments of Rome, for which the designation of "architect", beyond that of "engraver", is implicit. And yet, if we limit our research to the terms described above, the edges of a more decisive definition of his figure still offer some shadings, which we propose to sharpen more precisely than has been done so far in the admittedly extensive Piranesian bibliography.

As a generator of forms, as a constructing architect, he shows his abilities in the reconstruction and renovation of the church of S. Maria del Priorato. It is a work done in the maturity of his 45th year, and was commissioned by Cardinal Rezzonico in 1765. For Pope Clement XIII he designed some improvements for the villa at Castelgandolfo, and a project for the apse of St. John Lateran. None of these designs were executed. The facade of S. Nicola in Carcere has recently been attributed to him by Fiocco.

During his twenty-five years of Roman life - he had come to Rome when he was twenty as a "designer for the Venetian embassy" and he lived there almost without interruption, pursuing his work as engraver, under the reigns of Popes Benedetto XIII , Clement XII , Benedetto XIV, and Clement XIII - he does not, let us say, enter the professional field.

Even though he was a friend of Salvi, of Vanvitelli, of Bottari, and was surely placed, albeit indirectly, in contact with bricks and mortar, he does not enter the competitions or appear in the professional circles of the city, in order to obtain design commissions. He enters the S. Luca Academy in 1762, that is to say, very late, and solely on his merits as a scholar.

Did he prefer instead the discipline of Palanzani, of Vasi, of the art of engraving, the exploration of the Roman countryside, the discovery of the ruins still abandoned and hidden under centuries of vegetation, the archeological studies, towards which his Venetian relatives had directed him?

From 25 to 40 years of age he was at the height of his production and it is clear that, even if in the secret recesses of his mind there sometimes appeared the ambition to create architecture by seeking out the work that was being offered in the Rome of that period, all his energies were being absorbed by the printing of his great works dealing with the greatness of the ancient Romans. Only some indirect statements, and the indulgently applied title of "architect" that Piranesi exhibited, give testimony of his aspiration and vocation towards architecture, a vocation, however, that only finds an outlet in the creation of drawings, and in the concrete demonstration of its ability and possibility for construction through the clearly delineated framework of his visions, which are supported by a solid architectural structure that could only have been generated and composed in the mind of an architect fully mature in his knowledge of construction.

A more analytical reading, generating from the more flamboyant aspects of his pictorial work, may help us to understand and resolve the proposed problem.

Written over fifty years ago, Fasolo's opening argument unwittingly describes today's architect of the virtual realm, that is, an architect who designs "potential" realities utilizing CAD, 3-D, and Cyberspace, and is no longer restricted to the dormancy of images on paper. From our turn-of-the-millennium perspective, therefore, Piranesi fills the role of Ur-architect of the virtual realm.

S. Maria del Priorato

Piranesi, meanwhile, demonstrates, in certain designs and sketches of idealized architectural inventions, his knowledge of forms, of fundamental architectural forms, of the rules of classical architecture as well as the architecture of the 16th century, especially the Venetian--Palladian and Sansovinian--all infused with an enlightened [bibbienesco] spirit.

A project for a temple in 1743 is rigorously designed and engraved, with the following commentary. Gio. Batt. Piranesi, Arch. inv. and designed this in Rome, in the year 1743. The caption states:

The floor of this temple is notably elevated from the ground: note also in the center of the round cell that so is the whole great vase of the temple itself: four loggias led to it, and through as many stairs one ascended to it. The walls of this great temple are composed of two orders, and over the second curves a vast cupola with coffers and rosettes.

It is a vast, circular hall, inspired by the Pantheon, which encircles an open colonnade connected to the rotunda, in the center of which is the great altar on which the inextinguishable sacred fire was perpetuated by the Vestal Virgins. This colonnade is tied into the perimeter walls by four portico wings forming a cross.

The complex unfolds not concentrically, as may appear at first glance, but with a shifting of the respective centers of the two rings. The concept seems so precise--and the perspective rendering confirms this--that one cannot but admit that the artist has proceeded with a technically fastidious disposition of his sketch, that is to say with floor plans and projections, with the sensibility and rules of an architect. Some adjustments in effect do not modify the observations just made. This is the work of a 20-year-old, but his knowledge of the form of the "Corinthian Order" is perfect in all its references and details. We shall have to return to this project as one demonstrating a foundation of concepts that will characterize the Piranesian architectural invention in a very particular way. It is a beginning moment which reveals a mind technically organized for architecture. Other studies of ideal architecture show a firm knowledge of classical form. A sketch of an architectural invention, having a scenographic aspect even in the immediacy its line work, shows a mastery over forms, in this case Sansovinian. Building designs from 1743 follow the taste and style of re-creations of classical surroundings: "Great Corinthian hall"; "Ideal form of the ancient Campidoglio"; "Magnificent place of architecture"; "Doric atrium". These are the plates that connect with the Prima parte di architettura e prospettive inventate e incise da G. B. Piranesi, architetto veneziano.

First part of the architectures and perspectives invented and engraved by G. B. Piranesi, Venetian architect

A sketch for a great porticoed square dominated by a triumphal arch shows his command of compositions of strict Roman provenance, more notable if one makes connections to analogous themes developed by his contemporaries or neighbors, especially Juvarra. Even the "Carceri", which in their totality are nothing but a poetic and romantic vision with pictorial and resplendent ends, are composed with a well reasoned rigor and with linked mural structures: the interlacing of arches and vaults unfold in a resolved framework, in mural networks arranged with an architectural logic that makes possible a projection of the structural scheme.

Nor is it of interest, for this enterprise, to echo what has already been done by Focillon in retracing, in the specific theme of the "Carceri", the original formal elements found in Etruscan sources, in ruins, in enormous wall constructions, even in those elements of the Venetian baroque that play with rustic bossing.

Even in these visions the temper of the architect is manifested in the modeling of the secondary architectural details, in the weight and cut of the stone, particularly observed in the reproduction of bridges, on which Piranesi lingers attracted by their antique structure (the Cestio and Lucano bridges).

A feeling for materials and an attraction to Roman monuments, enduring exactly because of the vitality expressed by their function in the resolution of static forces, reveals itself in Piranesi at times like the reasoning of figuration, undertaken with the pleasure of a builder.

Such is the case with the Mausoleum of Hadrian: the buttressing creates an architectural motif for the alternation of oblique and curved spurs, and for the progression of powerful plinths: the whole framework is taken from a pre-selected motif, like a stand-alone composition.

The ruin on the Appian Way grows and takes its own form. Besides the interest of the form assumed by the ruin as a complete unity, the artistic interest of the design lies, again, in the analysis and revelation of its memorial structures.

Again in the plates of the sluice gates of Albano: it is a gigantic work, accentuated by a knowing appreciation of its references, by the pressures of the architraves and the arches, which excites the artist in those senses that belong to the architect that knows how to grasp the language of the material and the vibrations of its associations with living things.




Quondam © 2010.05.13