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The Sphere and the Labyrinth

The Sphere and the Labyrinth

Avant-Gardes and

Architecture from


Piranesi to the


Manfredo Tafuri

translated by

Pellegrino d’Acierno and

Robert Connolly




lIThe Wicked Architect”: G. B. Piranesi, Heterotopia, and the Voyage

Oh, agonizing compulsion toward freedom! terrible and ever-renewed revolution of knowledge! which justifies the insurrection Absolute against Absolute, the insurrection of life against reason-justifying reason when, apparently at variance with itself, it unleashes the absolute of the irrational against the absolute of the rational, justifying it by providing the final assurance that the unleashed irrational forces will once more combine into a value-system.

Hermann Broch, The Sleepwalkers

In the first edition of Le carceri (The Prisons), Piranesi includes a plate (IX), only slightly modified in succeeding states, that is totally unlike his later works of invention. An enormous oval eye, cut by the upper margins of the page, reveals to the observer the usual repertory of catwalks and hermetic torture devices. The artificiality of the organism is further accen- tuated by the placement of this perspective eye on top of an amibiguous walled structure, in which a central slanting portal is flanked on both sides by arches, through which can be seen a staircase and a low structure, apparently attached to the central portal.

At first sight, the plate seems to present a polemical enlargement of the typical baroque device of the perspective telescope, framed by an oval opening: we are reminded of Borromini’s II eyes” that perforate the portico of the Palazzo Carpegna and the Falconieri crypt in San Giovanni dei Fior- entini, but also of the landscapes painted on oval panels or canvases and of the cosmological themes that, from the time of the Cinquecento, were based upon the reflective properties of convex mirrors. 1 Observing the




plate more carefully, one realizes that the network of beams, stairs, and walkways suspended in the air not only projects beyond the foreground of the large eye, but passes through a second oval structure, which emerges from the customary vanishing [sfumarsi] of the image into spirals of smoke and depths of space. But that is not all. The shadow cutting diago- nally across the structure that serves as the base and the presence of the gallows in the left foreground-absent in the first state of the engraving- reveal that what seemed to be an /I exterior” is in reality an /I interior”: we now realize that the observer himself is immersed in the structure formed by the large ovals arranged in a series.

The plate in question can be considered, for several reasons, the key to understanding the entire series of the Carceri. In it, the two poles of Pira- nesi’s research-the evocation of a primordial strllctllrality connected to the celebration of the Lex romana, of the idea of justice, and the disarticu- lation of the structure evoked-are shown, without any didactic or narra- tive intent, reduced to the encounter between two novel forms.:

Ulya Vogt-Goknil can be given credit for having devised a reading of Piranesi’s Ca rceri that carefully avoids the usual interpretations of a liter- ary nature. 3 His perspective reconstructions of the plan, in particular, tells us a great deal about Piranesi’s method of composition: Piranesi’s con1plex organisn1s are seen to have their origins in planimetries \vhose dominating element is the randomness of the episodes, the lawless intertwIning of superstructures, the undermining of the laws of perspective, so as to make nonexistent sequences of structures seem real.-! All of which clearly con- trasts with the constant allusion, present in Piranesi’s imaginary struc- tures, to the austerity and organicity of Estruscan and Roman architecture. Thus, on one hand, we find a disarticulation of the organisms; on the other, references to highly structured historical precedents. The Piranesian contradictions begin to emerge in all their complexity. In the Carceri, Ulya Vogt-Guoknil sees a potential liberation of form; \ve would say, rather, frorn forn1. The indefinite opening up of spaces, one fitted within the other, their multiplication, their metamorphoses, and their disarticulation polemically supersede the sources of the Carceri itself. The” scena per angolo”; the scenographic inventions of Juvarra, Bibiena, and Valeriani; Marot’s Prison of A 111adis itself-all so often cited as direct or indirect precedents of the Carceri 5-are actually used by Piranesi as points of ref- erence with which to open up a fierce polemic.

May Sekler has furthered the formal reading of the Carceri, identifying in it a constant disintegration of the coherence of structure that, nonethe- less, has a precise function. It is, in fact, just this disintegration that in- duces the spectator to recompose laboriously the spatial distortions, to reconnect the fragments of a puzzle that proves to be, in the end, unsolva- ble. But it can also be said that the spectator of the Carceri is obliged, more than invited, to participate in the process of mental reconstruction proposed by Piranesi. Sekler herself accurately describes as “uncomforta- ble” the position the engraver reserves for the observer of his images, with respect to the angle from which the space is represented. 6

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

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The isolation of the elements and their sudden breaking off, just where they should confirm the organic connection of the whole, have been cor- rectly identified by Sekler; for this reason we do not hesitate in reconl- mending her text to the reader. 7

Our principal interest here, however, is to reexamine this hermetic frag- mentation of the architectural ordo, to test its theoretical prenlises, and to examine the perspectives it puts on ll1id-eighteenth-century European culture.

What must be made clear from the start is that all this breaking up, distorting, multiplying, and disarranging, apart from the emotional reactions it can elicit, is nothing more than a systematic criticism of the concept of place, carried out by using the instruments of visual communi- cation. It has already been pointed out that, as far back as the perspective compositions of the Prima parte di architetture e prospettive (First Part of Architectures and Perspectives) (1743), Piranesi presents organisms that pretend to have a centrality but that never achieve one. In plate X of that collection, the elliptical courtyard, which seems to constitute the focus of the organism, is seen, in the reconstruction of the plan, to be deliberately inserted as a spiral into the continuum of the columns; while in the II an- cient temple invented and designed in the manner of those which were built in honor of the goddess Vesta,” the outer circle winding around the Pantheon, the directrix of the stairway, and the Corinthian colonnade prove to be off-center in relation to one another and dislocated onto inde- pendent rings. 8

One might object that these distortions of perspective are not after all infrequent in the tradition of late-baroque scenography. That Piranesi’s engravings, however, present to us not merely a set designer’s whim, but rather a systematic criticism of the concept of /I center,” is clearly shown in the Pianta di ampio magnifico Collegio (Plan for a Vast and Magnificent College), inserted in the 1750 editon of the Opere varie di architettura (Selected Architectural Works). 9

The neomannerism of Piranesi’5 Collegio has led many to conclude that his research of the early 17505 was influenced by Juvarra and the architec- tural ideals of Le Geay, which John Harris-particularly through the cop- ies of Le Geay’s projects executed by William Chambers-has dated in the 1740s. More recent studies by Perouse de Montclos, Gilbert Erouart, and Werner Oechslin have cast strong doubt on Harris’s hypothesis, conclud- ing that, apart from the collaboration between Le Geay and Piranesi for the Roma moderna distinta per Rioni (Modern ROll1e Divided by Dis- tricts), edited in 1741 by Barbiellini, the fantasies of Le Geay preserved in the Kunsthaus in Zurich, datable at 1757-61, the copies of the album of Chambers (Victoria and Albert Museum, no. 5712, loco 93 B21), and the Tombe (Ton1bs) of 1768 refer to recollections of his Roman sojourn, and can in no way precede Piranesi’s inventions. IO The fact remains that the ties between Piranesi and the circle of the Academie de France in Rome, clearly demonstrated by the conference and exhibition at the Villa Medici

liThe Wicked Archited” 27



in 1976, constitute a neo-Sixteenth-century revival, utopian and anticlassi- cal in nature.

But beyond a doubt, Piranesi’s neocinquecentisn10 gre\v out of certain aspects of Juvarra’s research. It has already been pointed out how Juvarra’s design for the Duomo of Turin (1729) constitutes a reflection on the pro- liferation of spaces by gemmation that reaches paradoxical heights in Pira- nesi’s Collegio; 11 moreover, in the Pensiero dedicato a un sogno (Thought dedicated to a Dream) also by Juvarra (dated 25 August 1706), the diago- nal flight of space and the articulated stairway at the right of the page is accompanied by an oval eye, which, like an oneiric telescope fraught with presentiment, frames a landscape dominated by an architectural structure. Similarly, the scenic designs for the Ottoboni Theater at the Cancelleria can be included among the precedents of Piranesi’s Carceri. Without a doubt, however, Piranesi’ 5 neocinquecentisnlo has nothing in common with that of Alessandro Galilei. His reference models are neither Della Porta nor Maderno, but rather the most open-minded experimentalists of the Mannerist period.

In the cinquecento what was-for Peruzzi, Serlio, and Du Cerceau- utopian in the fullest sense of the word and \vhat represented an avant- garde position, by 1750 had been completely realized. The critical exami- nation of the concept of space, or better, of the determinative value of space, conducted by Hume and Hobbes, now becomes an element in the experiment par excellence of “constructed space”: architecture.l~ But it must be explained just why Piranesi, followed by Le Geay, Peyre, George Dance, Jr., and John Soane, gave birth to a highly experimental line of research.

In the dedication to Nicola Giobbe, prepared for the 1743 edition of his Prima parte de architteture e prospettive, Piranesi ties the theme of a purely ideal restoration of the “ancient majesty” to the painful statement of the objective and subjective impossibility of a concrete plan. He \vrites:

I will not tire you by telling you once again of the u’onder I felt in observing the Roman buildings up close, of the absolute perfection of their architectonic parts, the rarity and the i11n11easurable quantity of the l11ar- ble to be found on all sides, or that vast space, once occupied by the Circuses, the Forums and the Inlperial Palaces: I loill tell you only that tho selivi ng, spea ki ng ruins fi II ed 111 Y spi rit 10 ith i111 age s su chas eve nth e masterfully wrought drazoings of the i111 rno rtal Palladio, (l}hich I kept be- fore me at all tinles, could not arouse in nle. It is thus that the idea has come to me to tell the u 70rld of son1e of these buildings: since there is no

_hope that an Architect of our times can successfully execute anything sinl- ilar, _be it the fault of Architecture itself, which has fallen from the blessed perfection to which it was brought in the times of the maximum grandeur of the Roman Republic, as well as in those of the all-po\verful Caesars who followed; or whether it be the fault of those \vho should act as pa- trons of this most noble art; the truth is that today we see no buildings as costly as, for example, a Forum of Nerva, an Amphitheatre of Vespasian, a

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

Palace of Nero; any; no other ( to explain his 0 from Sculpture they have in th from the abuse they themselve

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“The Wicked AI



Palace of Nero; nor have Princes or private citizens appeared to create any; no other option is left to me, or to any other modern Architect, than to explain his own ideas through drawings and in this way to take away from Sculpture and Painting the advantage that, as the great Juvarra said, they have in this respect over Architecture; and to take it away as well from the abuse of those who possess wealth, and who make us believe that they themselves are able to control the operations of Architecture. . . . 13

The criticism aimed at the customs of the Roman milieu is accurate. Apart from any practical economic consideration-Focillon and Scott have dealt elegantly, if not analytically, with the situation of eighteenth-century Rome 14-Piranesi accuses the Roman aristocracy and the authorities of ig- noring the need for an urban reorganization founded on great public works. And on that subject, it is worth noting the shrewd observation by Bertelli, who sees in the dedication to Giobbe a reflection of the readings of Machiavelli’s Prince, which took place within Bottari’s circle: a reflec- tion of an idolization of the continuity of the Italian tradition and of re- publican Florence within the frame of “storia patria. “15

Nonetheless, in thanking Giobbe for permitting him to approach Salvi and Vanvitelli, whose works he lists,16 Piranesi seems to indicate a positive direction for the policies of urban planning. Moreover, even the projects of urban reform formulated by Pascoli waver between functionalism and rhetoric; we must remember, too, that the reformist ferment of the circle of Bottari and Cardinal Neri Corsini translates, in architecture, into an attitude at once rigorist, aristocratic, and erudite, capable of embracing the positive merits of a Michelangelo and of a Borromini, but incapable of pinpointing the structural motives of a possible renewal. 17

But the above passage contains something even more important: the statement of the autonomous role of utopia”f We have not yet arrived at

-. I

the “negative utopia” of the Careen. For the moment, Piranesi merely exalts the capacity of the imagination to create models, valid in the future as new values, and in the present as immediate contestations of the “abuse of those who possess wealth, and who make us believe that they them- selves are able to control the operations o.! Architecture.”

Utopia, then, is seen as the only possible value, as a positive anticipa- tion, as the only adequate outlet for an intellectual work that does not

_ want to relinquish _!he commitment to making projects. The theme of imagination thus enters into the history of modern archi-

tecture with all its ideological significance. What might at first seem a lull or a refusal, on the contrary, reveals itself in all its worth as anticipation. The invention, fixed and circulated by means of the etching, renders con- crete the role of utopia, which is to present an alternative that departs froill actual historical conditions, one that pretends to be in a metahistori- cal dimension-but only in order to project into the future the bursting forth of present contradictions.

Moreover, the irreplaceable role of the imagination as an instrument of scientific progress, as a source of hypotheses not otherwise formulable, had

liThe Wicked Architect” 29




been repeatedly recognized within the debates of the Enlightenment move- ment. Hampson has pointed out that in a work in vvhich no one would ever have expected a similar statement, La Mettrie’s H0l11111e-l11achine,18 the function of the imagination is praised, as a source of scientific and artistic innovations. And Burke himself, in his Enquiry into . .. the Sub- lime and the Beautiful of 1756, again takes up the theme, affirming that “all that which draws the soul into itself, tends to concentrate its strength and render it capable of greater and more vigorous flights of science.” 19

But it is important to remember that the sublime, for Burke, is con- nected to the idea of power, of domination. “I kno\v nothing,” he \vrites, “which is sublime vvhich is not connected to the sense of power; this branch proceeds naturally … from terror, the common origin of all that is sublime,” declaring the succession and uniformity of the parts as instru- ments capable of constructing the artificial infinite. And one notes that Diderot, in his Salon of 1767, invited the poets to speak “al\vays of eter- nity, of the infinite, of imnlensity, of time, of space, of divinity, of tombs, of hands, of Hell, of a dark sky, of deep seas, of shadowy forests, of thunder, of lightning that splits open the clouds. “20 It is the same celebra- tion of a deformed nature that Chambers, in his Dissertation of 1772, attributed to the “Chinese genre. “21

To represent the horrid and the demonic means to give a language to that which in reality eludes a rationalization of a classic type; it means to change the linear concepts of time and space. The dOl11inion evoked by Burke must be exercised exactly on those tvvo uncontrollable dimensions: by making them speak, by representing them, it is possible to make a case for their potential utilization.

The “power” will be that of the ne\v techniques-unnamed, but lying underneath like repressed demands-eapable of controlling the forces that elude the eighteenth-century philosophe.

The rhetoric of the infinite and the linguistic disorder-the language of the imaginary-thus constitute invitations to new techniques of domina- tion. The utopianism of Enlightenment architecture is made clear by a _______ lucid acceptance of this new role: archit~cture nO\N tends to formulate hy- potheses, rather than to offer solutions.\ And no one \vill ever claIm that a hypothesis must be completely realized:


Let us examine Piranesi’s Collegio once again. As in the Carceri, \vhat at first seems to be the subject is later negated and turned into a supple- mentary element. The centrality of the composition, \vith its successive and independent rings, projects outward from the circular space of the grand staircase subdivided into eight flights, which, among the organisms “that are in search of their own role” \vithin the concentric structures, is, significantly, one of the minor spaces. Actually, as one proceeds gradually from the center toward the periphery of the composition, the dimension of the rooms seems to grow progressively larger, while their geometrical structure becomes increasingly more differentiated and articulated. For ex- ample, look at the succession of loggias and atriums on the perpendicular axes or, even more revealing, the succession of spaces juxtaposed on the

Prelude: n Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

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diagonal axes, terminating-at the bottom half of the sheet-in two mixtilinear rooms with a boldly carved-out perinleter.

What differentiates Piranesi’s design from the abstract designs “of great dimension,” so customary in the eighteenth-century competitions of the Academy of San Luca,22 is its obvious programmatic character. The I’ ampio magnifico Collegio” is in fact a structure theoretically endlessly expanda- ble. The independence of the parts and their montage obey no other law than that of pure contiguity. The Collegio, then, constitutes a kind of gi- gantic question mark on the meaning of architectural composition: the “clarity” of the planimetric choice is subtly eroded by the process \vith which the various parts engage in mutual dialogue; the single space se- cretly undermines the laws to which it pretends to subject itself.

In this sense, the Carcen serves to heighten the crisis of the architec- tural object expressed in the Collegio and of which Piranesi had already given a metaphorical hint in those masterful representations of the twi- light of the rococo, the four Capricci (Caprices) of 1744-45. Refuting the hermetic-masonic interpretation of Calvesi, Jonathan Scott has interpreted the Capricci as a reflection of the Arcadian games: of that Arcadia, to be sure, to which Piranesi belonged from 17SQ-perhaps through the inter- vention of Bottari-and from which he expected renown and useful contacts. 23

It has already been pointed out that, in the Carceri, the constriction comes not from the absence of space, but from an opening toward the infinite.

Inasmuch as Piranesi’s erudite citations present a whole universe- which includes, as we have seen, the spectator himself-and inasmuch as these citations themselves (as Calvesi and Gavuzzo Stewart have observed) indicate that this universe is both that of republican justice and that of imperial cruelty, we must rondude that the universe of intersubjective domination, of the contrlll sociIll, establishes, together with control of “natural” subjectivity, the reign of the most absolute coercion. It is not by accident that the Nature invoked by the Enlightenment to legitimate the domination of the bomgeoisie is represented by Piranesi as a corrosive, diabolical, antihuman element. But even this contestation of a transcen- dental and providental onIer of nature is a basic part of Enlightenment criticism. Think, for example, of Hume’s Dialogues concerning Natural Religion (published posthumously in 1779), in which the Christian Demea recognizes that “a perpetual war is waged against all living creatures,” or Goethe’s Werther (1774), where the theme of the “necessity” and “natu- ralness” of cruelty is dominant, or the Neveu de Rameau, written by Di- derot between 1761 .. 1774, in which the disharmony between the individual and sociery is seen as inevitable: “In nature, all the species de- vour each other; in SOliety, aU the classes devour each other.” (And we have deliberately 0ftI1uoW, for the moment, the contrasting and comple- mentary cases of Ra.ssem and Sade.)

In return, it is MImtesquieu–often mentioned in reference to Piranesi’s extolling of the La’:ftmuma–who, in his De I’ esprit des lois, condemns

“The Wicked AM ‘., _… 31




torture as a convenience of despotic governments, but as contrary to the “voice of nature.” Thus as early as the Carceri the affirmation of the need for domination clashes with the affirmation of the rights of the subject. The result of the clash-represented epically in plates II and X,24 which depict surreal scenes of torture-is that not men but only things become truly “liberated.” In particular, in the re-etching of his copperplates, Pira- nesi fills the structures of the Carceri with hermetic “objects.” The uni- verse of pure power, of the absolute alienation of the subject, is not by chance a “mechanical” universe. A judgment on the part of Piranesi is implicit here. He sees that mechanical universe, kingdom par excellence of the artificial, as the place where there occurs the definitive loss of primor- dial organicity, of the union between the world of nature and the universe of human institutions. And yet, this very organicity is the subject of the Magni[1cenza ed architettura de’ Romani (Magnificence and Architecture of the Romans).

If the words of the Magni{icenza are to be taken literally, then we must set aside the judgment of Kaufmann, who finds in the 1761 work more advanced theses than those of the successive Parere (Opinions). 25 The de- fense of Roman architecture, against Allan Ramsay, the anonymous Inves- tigator (1755), and against Le Roy’s Les ruines (1758), is conducted on the basis of naturalism, the principles of fittingness, the criteria of truthful- ness, brought back into favor by Cordemoy and Laugier, but extraneous to the “moderate” position of Blonde!. 26 Piranesi writes:

I believe that in building, beauty consists of giving to the entire work a form which is truly proper and attractive, and in distributing the parts in a clean and tasteful manner, so that there is a lawful agreement among them, and so that a certain natural beauty and ornateness is produced, which holds the gaze of whoever looks at it. But I think that regarding this kind of work, one must consider above all its nature and its purpose, for the reason that since the beauty of boys is different from that of n1en, so in buildings requiring gravity and dignity the ornaments must be used sparingly, inasmuch as this very gravity and dignity serves as their adornment. In /1 charming buildings” of a less serious nature [” fabbriche deliziose”], however, if a free hand is used in the decoration, no one is likely to object . … 27

The relationship between Piranesi’s idea of architecture and Addison’s sensism-noted by Wittkower-is thus confirmed. Also as an anticipation of architecture parlante, the indicating of “a certain beauty and ornate- ness” as pertinent to the /1 nature and the purpose of architecture” stands up to historical verification. It is necessary only to distinguish, in the in- fluences generated by Piranesi’s theories, the line that attempts to recover a new secular and worldly allegorism-eertain works of George Dance, Jr., and John Soane come to mind-from that other line concerned with liber- ating the aggregative or collective qualities of pure geometric forms-from Peyre to Durand, that is.

But the passage cited contains something more. Between the architec-

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

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33liThe Wicked Arch~

of great public works and private architecture, a clear distinction of –If!’ITes is made. Piranesi’s ambiguous attitude toward the rococo, attested to by some of the plates of the Diverse maniere d’ adornare i cammini (Diverse Ways of Decorating Chimneypieces) and by his few documented works on the theme of interior decoration,28 is resolved, in the Magnifi- eenza, in the right to free rein in the field of private works.

The severity that must be adopted in the celebration of the supremacy of the res publica is compensated for by the regaining of subjective free- dom in /I charming buildings” [fabbriche deliziose], in architecture as a manifestation of subjective egoism. The distinction between “Civil Soci- ety,” that is, the State, and the area belonging to the bourgeois has al- ready been clearly made.

What is amazing to the reader of the Magnificenza is an incoherent dedication of faith to the “natural” laws of architecture:

Even though, as Horace has written, painters and poets have the right to venture as far as it may please them, this does not give architects the rights to do things according to their whims: architecture also having its method and its fixed limits, beyond which one cannot go and still work with rectitude. In fact, not even the above-mentioned professors, of poetry or painting, are of an importance which gives them the right to depart from a resemblance to what is real, as they propose; inasmuch as all the arts are an imitation of nature, and he who conforms most closely to nature is considered the most excellent artist of all. And if all the arts are subject to this law, we must certainly not exempt from it architecture, which also springs from what is real, and whose purpose is, as we can see, to imitate man’s first manner of dwelling . … 29

The naturalness of the primordian sources: Piranesi, too, is nostalgic for the happy time of the infancy of humanity. But with a clear ideological slant. The Etruscans and the Egyptians, concerned “more with the majestic in their works, rather than with enticing the eye,”30 furnish architectural language with a guarantee of legitimacy, permitting it to obey certain norms. The naturalness of the majestic signifies, in this sense, naturalness of state power and the alienation of the subject with regard to this power. It is exactly the theme of the Careen. “Naturalness” is converted into its opposite, or, rather, is revealed as pure pretext.

In the Campo Marzio (The field of Mars) the metaphor of the machine- universe heralded in the Carceri is fully developed and articulated. To con- firm Piranesi’s relationship to the neomannerist style of the Roman eigh- teenth century, we must observe that it is here in the reconstruction of the Campo Marzio that he gives form to what in the sixteenth century, or in the era of the so-called baroque Mannerism, was still an unexpressed hy- pothesis, a utopia so dangerous that it could be manifested only through allusions and in structures of limited dimensions.

The dissolution of form touches urban structure in the Campo Marzio- and no longer with the oneiric pretext of the Carceri. Of course, the ulter- ior historicist pretext remains. But, as we shall see, also in the Campo




Marzio (in fact, principally in Can1po Marzio) Piranesi uses that pretext as a double-edged weapon: the Auf/osung [the dissolution] touches both his- tory, inasmuch as it is a principle of value and an instrument of action, and the very concept of the city.

Compared to the Carceri, the Can1po Marzio actually appears polemical and self-critical. It was published in 1761-62, at the same time as Magnifi- cenza ed architettura de’ Ron1ani, and slightly after the re-elaboration of the Invenzioni capricciose di Carceri. 31 We have already observed how this re-elaboration marks the advent of an intense crisis of the ob/ect in the Piranesian poetics. In the Campo Marzio what is contested is the limited- ness, the abstractness, the randomness of the hermetic /I objects” that throng the plates of the Carceri of 1760.

It is necessary, then, to give concreteness to those objects and show them for what they are: shreds of what remained of the humanist ordo after the devastation wreaked upon its ideals.

The problem turns out to be one of language: that is to say, the most debated topic in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Europe, at least on the theoretical level. It has been accurately observed that the active pole of the Cartesian cogito, the ergo, which mediates the withdrawal of the sub- ject from things in order to reinsert them into the subjective and antime- taphysical ground of existence, is precisely language. 32 This makes even more significant the fact that the Carceri and the Campo Marzio unequi- vocably attack “language insofar as it is a mode of acting upon the world.”

All of which means, conversely, to claim an absolute autonomy for that language. But, at the same time, it also means to cover over a disconcert- ing suspicion regarding the unfeasibility of such an autonomy. Piranesi’s declaration, contained in the dedicatory letter of the Prima parte di archi- tetture e prospettive, finds further confirmation here. Only in the utopia of subjective negation, only in the ivory-tower land of the avant-garde, is it possible to recognize, despite everything, the residual margins of a posi- tive presence within the sphere of architecture.

We must verify our observations in the very heart of the structure of the Campo Marzio. It is imn1ediately apparent that this structure is com- posed of a formless heap of fragments colliding one against the other. The whole area between the Tiber, the Campidoglio, the Quirinale, and the Pincio is represented according to a method of arbitrary association (even though Piranesi accepts the suggestions of the Forma urbis), whose princi- ples of organization exclude any organic unity. Only the areas to the northeast and southwest, included in the double bend of the river, seem to be recomposed into structures in some way unitary and well defined: two orthogonal axes, roughly parallel to the course of the river’s bend, guide the composition of the Sepulchrum Hadriani [Hadrian’s Tomb J, of the complex formed by the two circuses of Hadrian and Domitian, which ex- tend along the axis of the mausoleum, of the Circus Agonalis, of the Cir- cus Flaminius, of the Templum Martis, of the Gimnasium Neronis, of the Terme [Baths] of Agrippa. A second alignment, regulated by a rectilinear axis, is found in the northeast sector.

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

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Here we come upon a succession of groups of monuments, totally with- out archaeological basis and characterized rather as public facilities: the Porticus amoenitati annexed to a gymnasiunl, the Naumachia Don1itiani, a triangulation of areas of green, protected by the” statuae virorum illus- trium” and connected to a natatio, it, too, triangular, open on the other side of the Pons Fabianus. 33

Clearly, however, the acknowledgment of these alignments serves only to heighten still further the “triumph of the fragment,” which dominates the formless tangle of the spurious organisms of the Campo Marzio. Not by accident does it take on the appearance of a homogeneous magnetic field jammed with objects having nothing to do with each other. Only with extreme effort is it possible to extract from that field well-defined typological structures. And even when we have established a casuistic complex of organisms based on triadic, polycentric, multilineal laws, or on virtuoso curvilinear layouts, we end up with a kind of typological nega- tion, an “architectural banquet of nausea,” a semantic void created by an excess of visual noise.

Yet it is worth noting that what is valid for the entire composition is even more valid for the individual organisms. It is evident that, in his Campo Marzio, Piranesi presents a virtual catalogue, a typological sample book of models based on an exception that very effectively gives the lie to the rule. For further verification of this, note the degree to which the structures of Hadrian’s Tomb, the Pantheon, or the Theatre of Marcellus- among the few major IIlOD1IIIleIltal works in Piranesi’s plates having a ba- sis in reality34-are arbittarily reduced to minor, almost unrecognizable incidents, even as they are jasened into a continuum of fragments that deprives them of any aut….y as well as of the very status of “monu- ment,” They are excep_dlat do not confirm a rule, then, and that lack any hierarchical organ All of which permits Piranesi to show, si- multaneously, just how … tile field of these exceptions can be, once a generic classical refaelK2″ been appropriated by an experimentation based on geometrical.L ( 1I,’lions having no limits. But this same exalta- tion of the fragment”.; -.s him to demonstrate, conversely, the use- lessness of this bra” IrE IIIIJWit of exceptional structures.

Note, for example. _:,:.alion of the officinae machinarum n1ilitarium within the triangle “.. three large piazzas joined at the Pons Fabianus. The by the intersection of two equilateral triangles, appalJll with respect to its natural lying position, so that its vertiOMef_1I aoss-axis, terminate in the little side rooms H’ the whole organism seems to be a kind of clockwork , however, there is an independence of the parts and a . qualities.

Also ·machines” are the organisms of the Cir- cus Ago the Templum Martis and the Gimnasium Neronis, enormous notched wheel having differen- tiated at the site of the Cripta Balbi, based on the in groups of circular spaces and of a central





rotunda defined by several concentric orders of columns broken by trape- zoidal rooms on the traverse axis; or, finally, the group dominated by the Bustum Caesaris Augusti, an imposing collection of regular and irregular geometric fornls one grafted on to the other according to the law of oppo- sition. (Attention is also called, in passing, to the appearance of two phal- lic-shaped planimetric organisms converging on the hexagonical atrium, which foreshadow, perhaps with no other intent than a pure ludus geome- trico, the project of Ledoux’s Oikema and some of Soane’s typological notions. )35

But it is in the Horti Luciliani that the mechanical architecture of Pira- nesi reaches an extreme level of abstraction. Here, a complex of structures in semicircles and in sectors of circles obeys the rule of gemmation, as they revolve around the Atrium Minervae: an astonishing mechanism, in which Piranesi achieves the maximum refinement of his geometric instruments.

The overall result of this sample book of typological inventions ex- cludes-the choice is deliberate-the characterization of the city as a com- pleted formal structure. The clash of the organisms, immersed in a sea of formal fragments, dissolves even the remotest memory of the city as a place of Form. The “city as a forest,” theorized by Robert Castell, followed by Laugier, and picked up again by Milizia,36 has a specific value for the culture of the Enlightenment. It is in fact called upon to supply a formal justification for the doctrine of natural law and for physiocratic ideology.

Nature now appears stripped of its metaphysical attributes, in the guise of the supreme legislator of bourgeois freedom. Molding itself on the structure of Nature, the city-the idea of the city as an ideal type-must put into concrete form the II sociality” of a civil order that will soon seek in the anarchy of production its truly new right to exist. The project for the urban redevelopment of London drawn up by Gwynn and those of George Dance, Jr., for the London areas of Finsbury and St. George’s Fields, much more than the ideal Paris reconstructed by Patte or the Bath designed by Wood, reflect that equation between city and nature (an equation, after all, already set forth by Wren in his plan for the reconstruction of the City of London after the fire of 1666). We are still in the realm of ideology here; the relation between physiocratic thought and plans of reform is part of another story, yet to be written. In the sphere of ideology, however, there emerges a plan of synthesis between chaos and geometry: the “naive di- alectic” of the Enlightenment still sees the synthesis in the form of uni- versality and still tends toward noncontradiction.

It is the systen1 which one analyzes and recomposes; the voice of contra- diction is a moment of universality, a universality which alone exists, and can reproduce and recognize itself. Civilization is the history of this uni- versality, for which there exists a perfect equivalent of form and content. 37

Exactly this equivalence of form and content is negated in the Campo Marzio. The only “natural” element which appears in it-the Tiber, with its sinuosity-eontributes to the dissolution of every residue of order. As

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

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certain aspects of this delineation qf the mere caprice/ rather than dralvn from rs these aspects with the ancient 111anner

:1IUlny of them break with tradition/ and -time. But whoever he is, before condemn-

observe the ancient plan of Rome men- ~ the Campidoglio]/ let him observe the

in all of Piranesi’s work, Nature is no longer identified with the origin of the” beaute positive et convainquante,” which Claude Perrault had already excluded from the sphere of the naturalistic mimesis.

The city as antinaturalistic, manufactured article negates itself as ordo, as structure. This is not so much (or not only) a prophecy of what \vill happen in the sphere of the capitalist-bourgeois administration of the city. Rather, we find ourselves confronted by a paroxysmic exaltation of a prin- cipium individuationis brought to the limit of its own possibilities, and of which Piranesi recognizes, with equal skepticism, the explosive effects in the sphere of form.

That the subject here is a city indicates that in the Can1po Marzio-as in the Carceri-form brought to the point of self-consumption is an abso- lute. What was safeguarded in the Pianta di ampio n1agnifico Collegio-a formal arrangement criticized but not negated-does not survive in the Campo Marzio. Here, moreover, it is no longer a question of a criticis111; it is a question of the representation of an active decomposition. The ordo whose dissolution is presented is none other than the totality of Form. The theme hinted at in the Capricci is here brought to full development.

The duplicity in the Campo Marzio becomes evident. The typological casuistry, at the very moment it finds itself fully liberated, demonstrates its own inability to structure an urban organism. The supremacy of pure form declares its own ineffectuality when confronted by the power of space.

One cannot exclude the possibility that Piranesi had as a second goal a criticism of the obsessive typOlogical experimentalism of eighteenth-cen- tury Europe. If this~ so, the sample book contained in the planimetry of the Campo Marzio wuaId serve as an explicit moralistic warning. Such a hypothesis can be ~CP”,.wcI by certain passages of Piranesi’s commen- tary on the plates. )I .. iD~the dedicatory letter to Robert Adam, Pira- nesi hides betweeD ..__JiIJa I!IiS negative opinion of the transformations wrought on the…. in the Imperial Age: “. . . when . . . the Empire was givea “,CIfJIt~alone … that site was kept, no longer for the use of -.. ….. IJtl to introduce the populace to pleasure. ‘/38 It is difficult not ~ J”~.parallel between the ancient tyranny of one man alone . “-;- of the ancien reginle. The republican vir- tues appear a models of reference. The above is con- firmed sub that Piranesi draws between two architectural • of the Imperial Age and that of the late baroque. He

What I m Campo m· what is Ti of archit resemble ing any tioned




ancient villas of Lazio, the villa of Hadrian in Tivoli, the sepulchres, and the other buildings in Rome that remain, in particular outside of Porta Capena: he will not find more things invented by the moderns, than by the ancients, in accordance with the most rigid laws of architecture. 39

And thus the cause of the “decline and fall” is one alone-the loss of republican freedoms and the advent of a laxist aristocracy. The Piranesian “labyrinth” begins to give itself a political significance, cleverly disguised.

The ambiguity of the Campo Marzio now becomes evident; it is at once a “project” and a denunciation. As a disenchanted documentation of the impossibility of an unambiguous definition of language, it-projecting this situation into the past-sounds like a merciless satire of the infinite capac- ity of late-baroque typology to reproduce itself n1etamorphically. (The fact that in the Carnpo Marzio the allusion to baroque typologies is filtered through a classicist geometrism fools no one; it is simply a means of ren- dering metahistorical and universal the polemic already begun.) Inasmuch as it is-despite everything-an affirmation of a world of forms, the Campo Marzio, precisely because of the absurdity of its horror vacui, be- comes a den1and for language, a paradoxical revelation of its absence.

Negation and affirmation cannot split apart. The “na’ive dialectic” of the Enlightenment is already superseded.

The 1/ great absentee” from the Canlpo Marzio, then, is language. The absolute disintegration of formal order, of what remained of the

humanist Stimmung, of its sacred and symbolic values-and, above all, of perspective as a symbolic instrument for the quantitative control of space-logically also affects the subject of Piranesi’s work: the relationship between history and the present. On one side, there is the painstaking, scientific study of archaeological findings; on the other, the most absolute arbitrariness in their restitution. (In this respect, after all, the Canlpo Marzio is anything but an exception in Piranesi’s work.) History no longer offers values as such. Subjected to a merciless inspection, it is re- vealed as a new principle of authority, which as such must be disputed. It is the experience of the subject that establishes values,. in this, already lies all the aspiration to the negative polemic of romanticism. 40 Is Piranesi the “archaeologist” interested in caves, underground passages, and substruc- tures purely by chance, then? Rather, cannot this interest in “what is hid- den” in ancient architecture be interpreted as a metaphor for the search for a place in which the exploration of the “roots” of the monuments meets with the exploration of the depths of the subject? In the Antichita di Al- bano e di Castel Gandolfo (1764), the methodical reconstruction of the hydraulic and building techniques of the Romans is accompanied in a sig- nificant way-as Scott has noted·H-by views of mysterious underground passages. In both the Carceri and the Campo Marzio History and Nature become detached from the subject, not to open up a new universe of val- ues, but rather to present this radical divergence as the only possible value.

No contradiction exists between this operation and the scientific pole of Piranesi’s activity. Archaeology, the rational study of historical evidence, is

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

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39liThe WICked Aa ‘ 1IJ r’

in itself a development of the principle of Reason. But knowledge, which that archaeology assures, gets separated from action, gets returned to a documentary or evocative sphere, and becomes the occasion for cryptic and allusive messages, reserved for the “inner few.” Piranesi, no longer found- ing language on the authority of history, brings to completion, coherently, the same principle of reason that guided him in his diggings into antiq- uity. Just as history is the reconstructive analysis of ancient findings, so language, precisely because it is finally freed from the authority of his- tory-here Piranesi reveals what he has learned from Lodoli-will impose itself as “an in-progress criticism of language itself.”

In this light, Piranesi shows himself the conceptual heir of the great critical line of modern architecture. The sixteenth-century avant-gardes, the experimentalism of Sir Christopher Wren, the eighteenth-century de- bate on the value of typology, the hypothesis of a language as universal synthesis of languages, disguised as a pure hedonistic game in the English garden of the eighteenth century, had already implicitly put forth the theme that Piranesi burst out with. On the other hand, in the English pastoral garden-as Argan has acutely observed42-there is embodied an implicit attempt at the reunification of the entire linguistic experience of mankind, at least in its figurative expression. In the microcosm of a “na- ture educated to be natural,” little Chinese temples, Graeco-Roman ruins, Gothic memories, magiad and arcadian settings, symbolic organisms, en- chanted places add up to an evident aspiration to the synthesis of human . customs. And that this synthesis compromises the institutionality of archi- tectural language-wbere tOllt se tient, a linguistic Babel is inevitable-is only a secondary effed, perhaps not even clearly realized by the support- ers of the pastoral garden. (It is for this reason, however, that such an aspiration hides behind the screen of an evasive and aristocratic theme, such as the large anc:esIDI puk.) But that this same aspiration made itself felt so deeply, and PIt.’OIdt 85 a consequence of the discovery of the rela- tivity of languages aDd ~”s-the theme will be rationalized by Mon- tesquieu, but is already ;:dlad in Vico–is demonstrated by that most fundamental document, dIIt’&atwurf einer Histrioschen Architektur, by J. B. Fischer von Erladt (1f21). We know that this work was well known to Piranesi, who repRJtdlMtll.-ne of its themes in a document now in the Pierpont Morgan I..ibmry. New York. 43

Thus the work of ‘ Erlach and the gardens of Brown and Kent axteept of language as a structure that is sisnilied. Piranesi, however, intends to go

-lIIIalyze a language thoroughly, it must be isolated, not only &.II – , foundations but also froill its signi- fieds. It is not by ~~Pilanesi’s criticism deeply touches the sym- bolic pretexts of . -t· furms (and here, too, one could enumerate the many preceden.s, sixteenth century on, that this attempt can lay claim to).

Let us try to link up thtJIDspective restorations of the Carceri with the geometric confaiion of the Campo Marzio. The shattering of the organ-




isms, the violence wrought upon the laws of perspective, the intuition of the possibilities offered by an indefinite” opening up of form” -the con- stant metamorphosis of the spaces in the Carceri, the gemmation, which theoretically could be continued ad infinitium, of the geometrical bodies in the Campo Marzio-mark, without any doubt, the end of Alberti’s theo- retical precepts of concinnitas and of finitio. But they also sanction the definitive divorce of architectural signs from their signifieds.

We have already seen how it is precisely the hermetic emphasis on con- tent [contenutisn1o] of the Carceri which indicates that in this work the true meaning is entirely in the disorganization of the fornlal fragments. The list of the geometric variations contained in the Campo Marzio leads to the same conclusion.

The obsessive articulation and deformation of the compositions no longer correspond to an ars combinatoria. The clash of the geometric “monads” is no longer regulated by any “preestablished harmony”;-H and, most important, it demonstrates that the only meaning this paradoxical casuistry can refer back to is pure geometry, in the absolute semantic void that characterizes it. 45

Piranesi’s contestation attacks not only perspective as a symbolic form, but also the utopia of the inventions of 1743 and of the Collegio. The swarm of theoretically equivalent forms-theorems constructed around a single thesis-makes it clear that Piranesi’s intent in the Campo Marzio is to draw attention to the birth-necesssary and terrifying-of an architec- ture bereft of the signified, split off from any symbolic system, from any “value” other than architecture itself.

It is’ almost too facile to read into this the anticipation of what would become the impotency of the signified in the Victorian age. The “loss of the center” is undergone and sublimated by Piranesi, accepted without dis- guising its negativity. The “negative” now becomes the ~goism and the silence of form. The hypothesis, presented as “necessary” and inevitable, is to build with these debased materials; the recovery of freedom coin- cides-as in the Carceri-with the sinking into constraint.

It is significant that Piranesi has this “freedom” coincide with a discon- tinuous montage of forms, citations, and memories (and not only in the Campo Marzio or in the plates of the Parere, but also in the dedicatory plates of the Antichita romane). One could very well apply to this obses- sive technique of asserrLblage Foucault’s definition of heterotopia: where the utopia affords consolation-he observes46-by covering” cities with vast avenues,” the heterotopia disturbs, secretly undermining language, “destroying ‘syntax’ in advance, and not only the syntax with which we construct sentences but also that less apparent syntax which causes words and things (next to and also opposite one another) to ‘hold together.'” And does not this definition of heterotopia also hold for Canaletto’ s recon- structions of a nonexistent Venice?

The change wrought by Canaletto upon the urban context of Venice attests to the profound reality of this city for the eighteenth century; to

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

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the fact, that is, that the most devastating manipulations are legitimate on an urban organism that has become merely an object at the disposal of the fantasy of a tourist elite. And it is certain that Canaletto’s Capricci as well as Piranesi’s Vedute, Carceri, and Campo Marzio are, in their way, “invi- tations to a voyage,” publicity material: as we know, the economic value of his etchings is quite clear to Piranesi, who adopts a clever strategy to attract his public. 47 Both Canaletto and Piranesi, however, want the voyage to be more than a hedonistic accumulation of sensations. The traveler must realize that the sought-for adventure, to be total, must be limitless, that therefore the voyage must be prolonged indefinitely, and that one cannot return from it. And in fact, how does one return from a Venice that does not exist? How indeed, from a form exaggerated in its dimen- sions, distorted in its reality, and confronting us with its wanderings in the maze of the Carceri? Was it merely by chance that Piranesi, after the failure of the first edition of the Carceri, republished it at a moment of great personal success, imposing it, transformed and divested of its theatri- cality, upon a public that had formerly been unenthusiastic?

The Carceri “explains” Piranesi’s sense of metaphorical archaeology. By its very nature, in fact, a voyage brings on a mental “montage”; it can reconcile the voyages with time and space, “braved” during the course of the voyage, once he has “returned home.” But if time and space are re- garded as “problems,” once the voyage has been begun the return trip becomes impossible: thus the chain of associations must be multiplied in the etching, which renders cruelly evident to the traveller the ultimate meaning of his choice. At the least, the collector, having returned to Lon- don with his Piranesi books and prints and with the fragments of an antiq- uity rendered hermetic, will feel obliged to continue his painful journey into the labyrinth of history. John Soane will be aware of this, reproduc- ing in his own home in Lincoln’s Inn Fields a “prison” swarming with “archeological” shreds reduced to things.

The etching-commodity, a reflection of Italian cities similarly reduced to “pictures on display” and utilized as such for economic survival, is thus anything but “innocent.”

But to justify the perverse operation carried out by the II devastation of syntax,” it is necessary to consider every utopian reconstruction of lan- guages aimed at opening up “cities with wide avenues.”

There is a passage in the Parere su I’ architettura in which Piranesi lets slip a statement that confirms our reading. After having attacked at length the nlonotony of “rigorist” architecture-the attack is definitely directed at the early experiments of French and English neoclassicism and at Laugier’s theories-Piranesi defends the inventive freedom of Bernini and Borromini48 having the protagonist of his dialogue exclaim:

you censure [criticizing the “necessity” of constant forn1al reneu1al] that same spirit that was the inventor who111 you praise, and u,ho, realizing that therefore he had not pleased the world, was obliged to follou’ that direction and that manner which displeases yoU ..~9

-rile WICked Architect” 41




The inventor to whom Piranesi refers is none other than the mythical primitive follower of Nature. Thus it is naturalism that” does not please the world.” But even more significant, the consequence of this indelible initial error is the condemnation to constant variation.

One is forced to “vary”-whether referring to the baroque meaning of the word or to Piranesi’s meaning, the two joined by his own words in a single” destiny.” And that it is a question of an initial” error” in the thinking of Our Man is demonstrated by a passage in which Piranesi fur- ther defends his MagniJ1cenza from Mariette’s criticism. All the rigorous- ness, which in the MagniJ1cenza ed architettura dei Romani had been recognized as typical of the Etruscan-Italian culture, is now justified by the pretext that in that volume it was necessary to demonstrate to Le Roy, and to the supporters in general of Greek artistic supremacy, that the Romans “being unable to restore to health the rules of an architecture infected at its roots, after they had embraced it, had tried to mitigate the rules. “50

There is no passage more dramatic than this in the entire theoretical work of Piranesi. If the very foundations of the language are recognized as precarious, then there is no point in seeking any “salvation” in the return to their original state. To build on those precarious bases, “infected at the roots,” is a tragic duty; variation proves itself once again to be a technique of survival.

It is difficult not to relate this discovery by Piranesi of the dramatic force inherent in the compulsion to vary to the protagonists of baroque experimentalism. Christoph and Kilian Ignaz Dientzenhofer, Bernardo Vit- tone, Johann Michael Fischer: in the light of the Parere, their research on the ars combinatoria takes on a pathetic significance, appearing as the final explosions of an experience, which, in order to come to a definitive conclu- sion, feels the need to test to the limit of its own possibilities the gamut of hypotheses that are “realistic,” or at least coherent with the premises of baroque rhetoric. Nor is it accidental that in the final results of this re- search, the ars rhetorica is cancelled out by the rediscovery of pure geom- etry in the inhibited recovery of a textual classicism: think of the parochial Victoriana of Villafalletto or of the church of Pastiky, but also of the ar- chitectural alphabets of Carlo A. Rana and Johann David Steingruber, who, under the cover of the graphic “j oke,” announce the possibility of an al- ienation from architecture effected by the pure sign deprived of meaning. 51

But in Piranesi something else occurs. His views of ancient Rome sub- vert the real dimensions of the buildings; typical is his view of the piazza of the Pantheon, in which the imperial rotunda is made smaller, while standing out against it is the obelisk-enlarged-at the center of the foun- tain. Piranesi’s etching shows us here a truth “beyond the real.” The Pan- theon is forced to merge with the urban continuum; it is forced to “contaminate itself” with it. Piranesi intuits the historical significance of Roman architecture, later” explained” by Riegl: the “impure” roman forms are such because they are compromised by the dimension of the lived-time of space, eroded, actually, by time, compromised by existence,

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

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by the quotidian. A further motive exists, thus, for the oscillatIon of lan- guage between autonomy and heteronomy.

The ruthless authority of language is felt in an almost unbearable way by the person who discovers not only its arbitrariness, but also its instabil- ity. In this sense, the tragic nature of Piranesi’s work acquires a historic sense, extraneous to many of the mythologies constructed around it.

In the Parere su I’ architettura, Piranesi explicitly attacks the principles of absolute linguistic coherence that are founded on naturalism. Blonde!’ Cordemoy, Laugier, Lodoli, and Algarotti are all caustically challenged. In the same work, Piranesi turns his criticism against himself, although in a totally dissimulated manner: his attack on Greek architecture, on Le Roy, Mariette, Mengs, and Winckelmann conceals the most complete insecurity regarding the working hypothesis upon which is founded the “return” to Italic architecture. The search for” origins” manifests itself as a compul- sion due to a secret sense of guilt.

The reasoning that Didascalo presents to the rigorist maestro is exem- plary. Assuming the entire mental habitus of his adversary, he completely overturns his conclusions; his objective is to demonstrate the absolutely arbitrary nature of architectural writing, its extraneousness to any” natu- ral” origin. 52 This is what-in the field of both general linguistics and architectural language-the debate conducted in France and in England had already conclusively demonstrated. 53 It is certainly possible that Piranesi gathered up the echoes of those themes; it is clear, however, that he por- trays the conclusions regarding architecture in an ambiguously paradoxical light. His Didascalo, in a rhetorical masterpiece rich in irony, subverts—or so it appears at first glance-the thesis of naturalist rigorism. Lodoli’s and Laugier’s coherence of language and syntax is demolished once it is brought to its extreme consequences.

Greece and Vitruvius, then?-Didascalo, turning to his opponent-well then tell me, what do the columns represent? According to Vitruvius, the upright brackets of the houses; according to others, the shafts placed to hold up the roof. And the {luting of the columns, what do they mean? Vitruvius claims they are the folds in the matrons’ clothing. Thus the columns no longer represent brackets of shafts that hold up a roof, but women. Now what do you think of the {luting? It seems to me that col- umns should be made smooth: snl00th columns, then, should be cast aside. The brackets and shafts are planted in the ground, upright. In fact, this is how the Dories formed their columns. 50, they must be made with- out bases; cast aside those without bases. The tops of the shafts, when used to hold up the roofs, should be smooth; those of the brackets can resemble anything you want, except capitals; and if that does not satisfy you, they must represent solid things, not heads of men, or virgins, or matrons, nor baskets surrounded by leaves, nor the matrons’ wigs placed on top of the baskets. Cast aside, those without capitals. Do not fear; there are other rigorists, who would like their columns smooth, without bases, and without capitals. 54

liThe Wicked Architect” 43





Adopting the criterion of the rigid naturalist and functionalist justifica- tion of architectural language, Piranesi continues his operation of demoli- tion; the criteria assumed as basic turn back on themselves:

Let us observe the walls of a building both from the inside and from the outside. Those at the top terminate in architraves, and with all the rest that goes up there; and under these architraves are disposed for the most part semidiametirc columns or pilasters. Now I ask, what holds up the roof of the building? If it is the wall, then this has no need of architraves; if it is the columns or pilasters, then what does the wall do? Come, signor Procopio, what do you want to knock down? The walls or the pillars? You do not answer? Then I shall destroy everything. Cast aside, ‘Buildings without walls, without columns, without pillars, without friezes, without cornices, without vaults, without roofs, space, empty space, bare countryside . … ‘ 55

Bare countryside: it does not much differ from Malevich’s ” pure desert.” What Piranesi seems to refuse as a terrifying prospect is exactly the point of departure of the historical avant-gardes. Piranesi’s anguish, revealed as anguish for the now-evident presence of the arbitrary nature of human institutions-” it is use that makes the law,” he had affirmed at the begin- ning of the Parere-can only be conquered by giving voice to that arbi- trary nature.

But in the second half of the eighteenth century this arbitrariness can appear only as the power of the irrational. Piranesi’s attempt to anchor it to history fails with his first encounter with the infinite freedom which that power presupposes. Baroque arbitrariness thus appears in two facets: exalted in the Parere as an emblem of freedom, it is condemned in the Campo Marzio and the Ragionamento apologetico, in terms of a revela- tion of its dangerous ambiguousness, not to speak of its impotence.

A surprising result is thus obtained: rigorism is annulled only because it is insufficiently rigorous. At the end of his reasoning, Didascalo discov- ers that the absolute presence of reason by itself leads to silence, to a semantic void, to geometric nothingness. But the crowding of objects around the multiple centers in the Campo Marzio, in many of the designs of the inventions, in the very plates that accompany the text of the Parere, and the annulling of the concept of space itself lead exactly to the same result. 56 Only the procedure of the demonstration changes; an absurd rea- soning is substituted for an affirmative one. On the other hand, the natu- ralism of the Ii rigorists” can be followed to the letter; in the Diverse maniere, the infinite variety of the shells engraved by Piranesi seems to denl0nstrate that even nature’s models invite us to a constant invention.

It is in this sense that the text of the Parere, not casually cast into the form of a dialogue, constitutes a record of the discussion that Piranesi sets up with himself. This is reflected in the passages of the Parere in which Piranesi reveals the meaning of the conflict he has experienced and ex- pressed. The reduction of architecture to a sign involves the expropriation

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

of ex

lec wi] Pir ch, prE qUl


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of the intellectual qualities of planning by a new professional figure, whose expertise is purely technical.

Piranesi’s prophecy approaches the question of the functionality of intel- lectual work in the field of architecture, in the light of the exigencies that will be typical of the new bourgeois clientele. Being merely ideological, Piranesi’s prefiguration does not even touch on the themes that will be characteristic of the eighteenth- and nineteenth-century debate on the su- premacy of techonology; but he already poses, with incredible clarity, the question of the dissolution of the professional figure of the architect, as defined in the orbit of humanist culture.

Let us suppose-he has Didascalo say-that the world, although it dis- dains anything that does not vary from day to day, were gracious enough to put up with your monotony, to what state would architecture be re- duced? A un vil metier ou l’ on ne feroit que copier, a certain Signore has said: and so that would make you others not only mediocre, extremely mediocre Architects, as I have just said, but even less essential than brick- layers. They, after all, after doing the same piece of work repeatedly, will have memorized the procedure and will have another advantage over you: their mechanical ability; in fact, you will cease to be Architects, since those seeking to build would be foolish to ask an architect to do what a bricklayer could do for them at much less expense.

Protopiro: Yes, only if architecture consisted of something other than the beautiful and the majestic. Didascalo: Do not speak to me about beauty and majesty. You know bet- ter than I that when it comes to foundations, materials, thicknesses, and the grading of walls to create arches, of everything, that is, that has to do with the substance of a work, the bricklayers can hold their own with the Architects: let us also consider, then, that the works would be much sim- pler, and in the same style as always.

The reduction of intellectual work to abstract repetitive work is already completely foreshadowed. Even the fundamental distinction, made a cen- tury and a half later by Adolf Loos, between architecture (the monument and the tomb: that which has no part whatsoever in our daily existence) and the simple building, extraneous to the world of art, is already antici- pated in Piranesi’s writings:

Architects are normally called in when one intends to build a beautiful building: this is what we may well affirm Architecture consists of today. But when one does not have such a concern, it is the patrons themselves who are the Architects, and it is enough for them to find someone merely to throw up the walls. All the rest of Architecture, other than ornamenta- tion, is of so little importance and of so little glory for Architects that few of them are proud of it.

Protopiro: But do you consider them Architects? And do you praise the patrons who act thus?

“The Wicked Architect” 45



Didascalo: On this subject I will tell you only that in so rnany Ivorks guided by patrons, bricklayers, and Architects of this kind, each has con?- promised himself, and whoever sees the people living in these buildings, instead of feeling sorry for their being badly housed, often reproves then? for being too weak. And, getting back to ourselves, if you took aIvay fron? me the freedom to vary the ornalnentation, each artist according to his talent, in a few days you would see the sanctuary of Architecture open to all. Architecture, understood by all, would be scorned by all; Ivith tilne, buildings would be constructed indifferently; those sensible styles, u’hich you esteem, would be lost by the same means by u’hich you Ivish to support them; and you others would be deprived of the desire to reproach and to duel with those architects who would no longer exist-a misfortune

that for you would be the greatest of all. Thus to avoid this disorder, I ask you to consider those alleged possibilities, yes, but also to respect freedon?, which is what sustains them. s-;

The hint at dilettantism is explicit. But even more explicit is the prospect

glimpsed: the crisis of the professionalism of the architect, the extinction of architecture as intellectual work. Piranesi’s polemic regarding the neo- Greek revival thus finds a further justification. Purism, in fact, seems to

lead directly to an elementarism capable of opening up “in a few days the

sanctuary of Architecture.” In the combinatory paroxysm of the Calnpo Marzio, the reduction of

architecture to geometric signs merges, not by chance, with the prolifera-

tion of variations. But we have already glimpsed, at the end of this obliga- tory journey, the prospect of a reduction of the invention to an abstract framework of lines, of mere textbook figures. Durand’s Precis is the ex- treme limit of a secularization of architecture that had been prophesied and feared for some time. “The democratization” of intellectual work compro- mises the very worth of that “work,” at the same time that it opens up to it unforeseen possibilities of intervention into the form of the human environment.

Piranesi’s heterotopia lies precisely in giving voice, in an absolute and evident manner, to this contradiction: the principle of Reason is shown to

be an instrument capable of anticipating-outside of any sueno-the mon- sters of the irrational.

However, the rational-irrational dialectic, as we have just stated it, still appears too schematic. Piranesi does not constitute an “incident” in the

historic journey that leads from Cordemoy to Durand to Bruyere. Certainly these latter are “worthy architects,” in the sense that Klos-

sowski calls a philosopher “worthy,” starting with Plato. Klossowski writes:

The worthy philosopher is proud that the fact of thinking is the only valid activity of his being. The wicked man who philosophizes does not grant to thought any value other than that of favoring the activity of the strongest passion, passion that in the eyes of the well-bred man, is always a short- coming. But if the greater evil lies in concealing the passion under the

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

appearance of honest man th render justice I ously, since, ir the activities describing an l

But does not ~

strousness,” pl

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top of the last illorum ignavi the “worthy p

Piranesi is t strousness of ]

deviant rigor: sowski contin\

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.ItllrG! “II



appearance of thought, the wicked one sees nothing in the thought of the honest man than the covering up of an impotent passion. If we want to render justice to Sade, it is necessary to take this wicked philosophy seri- ously, since, in a tremendous outpouring of effort, it puts into question the activities of thinking and writing, and particularly of thinking and describing an action, instead of committing it. 58

But does not Sade’s “countergenerality of perversions,” his “total mon- strousness,” perhaps help to clarify a question that in a way pertains as well to Piranesi, who was also tormented by the difference between the writing of an action and the concrete act? (Between design and architec- ture?) And does not Piranesi’s inscription, taken from Sallust, placed at the top of the last fantasia of the Parere-“Novitatem meam contemnunt, ego illorum ignaviam”-reveal perhaps the impotent passion covered up by the “worthy philosophers”?

Piranesi is thus presented as a “wicked architect,” who, in the mon- strousness of his contaminations, reveals the cracks guiltily repressed by a deviant rigor: language and non -language counterposed, perhaps? Klos- sowski continues:

The traditional language, which Sade uses with impressive force, can eas- ily admit everything that conforms to its logical structure: it undertakes to correct, censure, exclude, and omit anything that would destroy this structure, that is, non-sense. To describe the aberration is to set forth positively the absence of elements that make it possible for a thing, a condition, a being, not to be livable. And yet Sade accepts and keeps that logic without question; indeed, he develops it, he systemizes it, to the point of violating it. And he violates it by conserving it only to make of it a dimension of the aberration, not because the aberration is described by it, but because the aberrant act is reproduced in it. [But this means] desig- nating language as a possibility of action: whence the eruption of non- language into language. 59

In this perspective, the “wicked architect” presents himself as mon- strously virtuous; the eruption into writing of that which is external to it brings into discourse the category of aberration as an immanent reality.

How many problems will he encounter in his attempt to close up the distance between the written act and the committed act?

The texts of the Osservazioni sopra la lettre de M. Mariette and of the Parere were published in 1765: the preceding year, Piranesi had been ap- pointed to take over the reconstruction of Santa Maria del Priorato on the Aventine, as well as that of the apse of San Giovanni in Laterano. Korte and Wittkower have reconstructed with precision the limits and the pro- cess of the eighteenth-century intervention in the church of the Knights of Malta. The latter in particular has given a correct critical reading, which privileges northern Italian aspects-those of the Veneto and the sixteenth century, but of Juvarra as well-of the reorganization of the lighting of the apse and of the transept, confirming, by surveying the variations on

liThe Wicked Architect” 47




the theme of pillar-column pairing elaborated by Piranesi, the derivation from Mannerist tradition, previously underlined by Korte. 60

Sufficient attention has not yet been paid, however, to the theme of the placement of the altar of San Basilio in the new choir. Wittkower observes that the projecting of the altar toward the transept, introduced by the three steps and the forward balustrade, leads to a deliberate fractioning of the spatial continuum of the organism. According to Wittkower, the intro- duction of this hiatus represents a conscious recourse to the Veneto models (Palladio and Longhena: since the altar has the same form, the examples of the Redentore of San Giorgio Maggiore and of the Church of the Salute are cited by the German art historian). In this way, the breaking up achieved produces the effect of a “subjective experience of space,” which is dominated by the final image of the altar that is illuminated by a ” cham- ber of reflections” constituted by the perforated apse and by the lantern that opens onto the transept. Also called to mind here are the lighting tricks of Juvarra in the church of the Venaria Reale; furthermore, the lighting of the apse of the Priorato recalls the artifice of Piranesi’s third plan for the new apse of San Giovanni in Laterano, rich in the motifs of Borromini. 61

And thus the altar of San Basilio becomes the protagonist of the restruc- turing of the church of the Priorato. The same articulation of the frame- work, the unusual disposition of the sources of light, the cryptic iconography of the vaults are simple complementary “functions” of the altar, which presents itself as a summation of elements arranged in an alogical succession. The mensa, the back, the pyramidal trunk of the oval sarcophagus placed as a crowning part, the central medallion above the ciborium, the globe with the statuary group of the saint’s flight inserted in the pyramid are arranged only as a labyrinthian image, not unintention- ally immersed in an ambiguous totality. This complex, in fact, is situated against the light with respect to the apse, but directly exposed to the light coming from above. Again, Piranesi’s architecture seems to break up and de-compose its fundamental lines. The logic of the variations-note the ensemble of the framework of the transept and the apse in their composi- tional balance-and the logic of the summation: the structure of the altar, studied in its internal articulations in the autograph design in the Kunstbi- bliothek in Berlin,62 demonstrates that there is a logic of de-composition that presides over its ambiguous interpolations.

But, exactly like the Parere, the altar of the Priorato, an isolated object and thus perceivable as such, is nothing more than a mechanism that flaunts its duplicity.

The light coming from the apse directly illuminates the back of the altar, accentuating its hallucinating geometrism. The overlapping of the images on the front facing the entrance, facing the community of the faithful, corresponds to the striking abstraction of the pure geometric vol- umes on the back of the altar: a bare sphere and a solid figure of complex structure that embraces it.

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

As thE contrast of the Pl tuous Wl ulus frol intellectl structure emphasi achieved deceived

No ot of the K essence San Bas contrad;

Certa be foun graphic ” architE prehen c

tation, abunda: altar of

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V\1e nesl S



As the hidden face of the altar, as a concealed aspect to be discovered, in contrast with the triumphal exhibition of the recto, the verso of the altar of the Priorato reveals completely the internal dialectic of Piranesi’s “vir- tuous wickedness.” What is given as evident, as an immediate visual stim- ulus from a common point of view, reappears purified, rendered pure intellectual structure, on the reverse side, on the hidden side. But this structural essentiality, this revelation of the laws that govern the rhetorical emphasis of the “machine” that faces the nave of the church, can be achieved only by a deliberate act, performed by one who refuses to be deceived by the” evident” aspect of things.

No other work of Piranesi’s succeeds, as well as the altar of the church of the Knights of Malta, in rendering so violently explicit the ultimate essence of his research. What the two faces, together, of the altar of San Basilio make brutally clear is the discovery of the principle of contradiction.

Certainly, in the altar of the Priorato many cosmological references can be found, and it can be amusing to list their precedents in baroque sceno- graphic design and their consequences in the geometric inventions of the “architects of the Enlightenment.” But doing this would prevent our com- prehension of Piranesi’s tragic disenchantment. Abstraction and represen- tation, silence and conlmunication, the freezing of the signs and the abundance of images-these pairs of opposites are closely linked in the altar of San Basilio. 63

It can be safely stated that the sphere hermetically inserted into the silent exchange of geometric solids, emerging from the altar, is the termi- nal point, constantly fleeting and feared, of Piranesi’s research. The abso- lute void, the silence of the “things by themselves,” the tautological affirmation of the pure sign, turned solely back onto itself: in the Campo Marzio we have already glimpsed the demonstration ad absurdium of this necessary “nullification of the signified.” In the church of the Priorato that senlantic void is no longer hinted at. Now it is finally spoken of as it is, in all its brutal nakedness. The authentic horrid of Piranesi is here, and not in the still ambiguous metaphors of the Carceri. Precisely because Piranesi has to demonstrate that the silence of architecture, the reduction to zero of its symbolic and communicative attributes, is the inevitable consequence of the “constraint” to variation-here once again we have the theme of the Parere-the two faces of the altar cannot be separated. The destruction of the symbolic universe is seen to be closely linked to the last, pathetic triumph of the allegory, which unfolds itself on the side facing the faith- ful. So that if Piranesi’s altar still contains a symbolic residue, this signi- fies only the announcement of the semantic void that must result in the desanctification of the artistic universe. When Ledoux, Boullee, Sobre, and Vaudoyer point out Piranesi’s geometric silence, they will feel obligated to substitute for the ancient symbolism of transcendence a symbolism of man made sacred to himself. 64

We can now interpret correctly the passage of the Parere in which Pira- nesi seems to recover completely the baroque principle of unity in the

liThe Wicked Architect” 49




many. After having terminated his antinaturalistic and anti- Vitruvian po- lemic, Didascolo concludes:

… show me designs made by any rigorist that you please, by anyone who believes he has drawn up a really marvelous plan for a building; and if he is not more foolish than someone who works without rules, I will pay you a wager, whereas he will be able to conceive a building without irregularities; when four upright poles with a cover on top constitute the prototype of all architecture, they can exist whole and united during the very act of their being halved, distorted, and rearranged in a thousand directions: in sum, when the simple becomes a compound, and the one becomes that multitude that one wants. 65

The” simple” is thus equivalent to the compound, and the “multitude” that converges in the one is that which one wants. It could not be stated more clearly that the one, with which we are dealing here, no longer has anything to do with the universal con-sonantia of Leibniz’s monadology, nor, even less, with the cosmic harmony of humanistic panpsychism.

For this reason Calvesi’s attempt to link Piranesi’s position to the her- metic and Masonic tradition leaves a great many doubts, not only because of the shakiness of the evidence offered, but also because of the much more radical significance that Piranesi’s discovery of the negative, of the inherence of the contradiction within reality, assumes with regard to the idealistic Masonic appeal to brotherhood and justice. 66

The next step in the reduction of space to a tangle of things that ques- tion one another’s meaning interchangeably in an impossible colloquy is the experimentation carried out on the surface, in what Piranesi himself calls the dimension of “little architecture. “67

In the Diverse maniere d’ adornare i cammini (1769), as previously in the fa\ade and the enclosing wall of the little church on the Aventine and in some of the last designs of invention, the critical inquiry into the se- mantic residues of an architectural language reduced to pure decoration arrives at conclusions no more reassuring than those obtained in the large- scale attempts. And, after all, the sadistic destruction of the organicity of space that takes place in the Campo Marzio and in the plates of the Parere leads directly to architecture as hermetic decoration.

It is significant, however, that in the Ragionamento apologetico, which accompanies the Diverse maniere, the technique of bricolage is justified by the author in one of his most ambiguous theoretical discourses. Piranesi writes:

It may be said that I have overloaded these drawings of n1ine with too many ornaments; it 1nay be displeasing to others, that to decorate private rooms, where one usually finds the graceful, the delicate and the gentle, I have used Egyptian and Etruscan styles that, according to common judg- ment, are daring, bold, and harsh styles . … To certain natures, then, whom the poverty of their ideas more than propriety renders abnormally fond of simplicity, these designs of mine will seem to be too laden with

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

ornameni a buildin fused pOE Montesq I disapprl

Again note his’ tingness” lieve in experien( irreversit of the inl

But’lDha1 encumbe that it is it; just a concert, ( not to th unable t( may be l that higt among t, OT lesseT seTr!e as

Tbe rem forms is .dtitt:et, IIIR mrr ilia- thr q, _1-



ornaments, and they will throw up in my face Montesquieu’s maxim, that a building laden with ornaments is an enigma for the eyes, just as a con- fused poem is for the lllind, and 1 in turn shall repeat that 1 stand with Montesquieu and all other enemies of enigmas and of confusion, and that 1 disapprove as much as anyone of the multiplicity of ornaments. 68

Again Piranesi conceals his true intentions. It is interesting, however, to note his insistence upon the value of clarity of perception and upon” fit- tingness” [” convenienza”] in decorative elements. And one can even be- lieve in his sincerity, in this specific case. In fact, Piranesi himself experiences the crisis of classicist harmony as a “loss,” as painful as it is irreversible. What he feels he must justify, then, is precisely his intuition of the inevitability of disorder, using equivocal arguments. He asks: But what multiplicity? That which out of lack of order and arrangement encumbers the eye and confuses it. The man deceives himself who believes that it is the multiplicity of ornaments which offends the eye and confuses it; just as he is deceived who, his ear being confused and dazed by a bad concert, attributes this to the multiplicity of voices and instrument, and not to the ignorance of those unable to arrange them properly, or those unable to perform this music. Thus, the sole reason for which the eye may be offended or confused by an architectural work is the ignorance of that high or that low by which in nature, as in the arts, there exists among the ornaments a certain variety of degrees, and grades, of greater or lesser worth, whereby some assume the figure of the prince, and others serve as bystanders. 69

The recourse to naturalism, to polyphony, to the value of the hierarchy of forms is amazing. Piranesi seems to want to enumerate, in support of his architecture, the very values and instrumemts of work which that architec- ture lllercilessly places into crisis .. Little wonder, then, that to justify fur- ther the audacity of his chimneypieces, he calls upon the” ancients” for support:

No! An artist who wants to acquire respect and a name must not be content to be merely a faithful copier of the ancients. But, studying their works, he must show that he as well is an inventive spirit (1 almost said creator); and, combining the Greek, the Etruscan, and the Egyptian with skill, this man of courage must open himself up to the discovery of new ornaments and new ways. The human mind is certainly not so limited that it cannot give new embellishments and new charm to architectural works by combining a most careful and profOund study of nature with that of the ancient monumentsJo

Historicism suddenly turns in the opposite direction. The more archaeo- logical interest extends, to the point of touching unexplored areas, the more any illusion is dispelled about the possibility of extracting from these areas any useful principles.

In certain ways, however, the etchings of the Diverse maniere mark a step backward with respect to the Campo Marzio and the altar of San

liThe Wicked Architect” Sl




Basilio. In the chilly atmosphere of neo- Egyptian chimneypieces and rare- fied rococo objects, which despite the different languages reflect the same taste, Piranesi tries to construct a syntax of contamination, to return to a deliberately na’ive synthesis.

Apart from the furnishings executed by Piranesi, this” na’ive synthesis” is materialized in a building of eighteenth-century Rome that has been virtually ignored by Piranesian scholars: the small palazzo situated be- tween Via de’ Prefetti and Vicolo Rosini. We do not have the elenlents to ascertain the attribution of this singular work, undoubtedly influenced by the inventions of Piranesi. It is certain, however, that the paratactical com- position of the fa~ade, the arched portal on Tuscan columns and the tra- beation reduced to a shell, the sequence of the oval atrium and the metaphysical grand staircase in which the continuity of the walls and vaults is underlined and rendered abstract by hermetic engravings in the masonry, and the decoration of the third -floor windows, reflect the ideas of the plates of the Parere and the Diverse maniere.

This interpretation of the Diverse maniere opens up the path for nine- teenth-century eclecticism, even though, in some of the most irascible of the plates as in some of Piranesi’s drawings of the last years, the tension toward an unplacated dialectic remains. Nevertheless, the propagandist sig- nificance of the drawings of the Diverse maniere did not escape James Barry:

A book by the Cavalier Piranesi has just been published, written, as was his Magnificenza, for the purpose of condeming the Greeks . … But this purpG6e conceals something more equivocal than may easily be believed: merchants often indulge in double dealing, and he has accumulated an enormous quantity of various marbles which he would be happy to sell. Given, however, that no one would ever take them for objects of Greek origin, for a very obvious reason, the renewal and the sharpeni~g of old prejudices against the Greeks prove to be a useful contribution towards facilitating the sale of his collection. This is the purpose of his book, pub- lished as a kind of publicity announcementJl

But in Piranesi the attention to the market is never separated from a programnlatic intent. The Piranesi mixture, set forth in the Discorso apolo- getico and exemplified in the bricolages of his compositions and in the wall decorations for the Caffe degli Inglesi, completes the operation begun with the Carceri, continued in the Campo Marzio and in the plates that accom- pany the Parere, and resulting in the realization of that theoretical “mani- festo” par excellence, the altar of Santa Maria del Priorato. The destroyed space makes room for the “things.” And these are no longer, as in Leib- niz’s theorization, conditions of space, but rather appear in all the hermeti- cism of their object-void. In the Antichita romane, the Antichita di Cora, the Descrizione e disegno dell’Emissario del Lago di Albano, and the Ve- dute di Roma itself, the isolation of the architectural objects corresponds to the back of the altar of San Basilio. The hermetic muteness of “things in themselves” can also be expressed by the freezing of their geometric struc-

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

tures, as ( Sepolcro l chiesa di , the Ponte cited. To 1 tural part] context, a istic objet:

But thi~ somethin~

plistically. the techni mane-in Castel SaT undergrou form is or ence. The nudity in in New Y( plates of t nary mau~ the 17705: evident” .

Quite (1 directs his himself Iu The deser. closely thJ dlilecture GIll tum t

“‘alu’nN TLr~

tl-salt 1 bMdi jIiia_ II.



tures, as occurs in many plates of the Antichita romane, the Pianta del Sepolcro di Alessandro Severo, the Caverna sepolcrale … dirimpetto la chiesa di San Sebastiano, the Spaccato della piramide di Caio Cestio, and the Ponte Fabrizio, which are only some of the examples that could be cited. To be considered as well is the process of enlarging some architec- tural particulars, accessories, or work tools, which, extracted from their context, aften assume the appearance, in Piranesi’s engravings, of surreal- istic objets trouves. 72

But this enlargement of the single archaeological object certainly hides something; its ceremonial significance is too blatant to be evaluated sim- plistically. There is too much clarity in those tripods, in those shields, in the technical reconstruction of the Aqua Giulia, or-in the Antichita ro- mane-in the cemetery urns of Villa Corsini and in the inner portal of the Castel Sant’Angelo. The dangerous voyage into the labyrinth or into the underground is here replaced by a overdetermination of form; but that form is only an enlarged fragment, equally hermetic by excess of eloqu- ence. The sphere of the altar of the Priorato, which appears in all its nudity in the detailed drawing conserved in the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, and the Babel-like towers that stand out in the dedicatory plates of the Antichita romane and, even more significant, in the imagi- nary mausoleum of the drawing in the Gorhambury Collection (datable to the 1770s) demonstrate once again the Piranesian tension between the “too evident” and the “too ambiguous.”

Quite correctly, in the Diverse maniere d’ adornare i cammini, Piranesi directs his criticism against the very hernletic “objectuality” to which he himself has forced objects (and even antiquity, reduced to an “object”). The desert of the signified, once more, must be filtered and examined closely through a further historicist experience. Etruscan and Egyptian ar- chitecture are represented as sources of a primordial constructivity; one can turn to them only to contest again any pretext at linguistic absoluteness.

The destruction of language as grammaire raisonnee is achieved. The plates of the Cammini are the fruit of a reduction to zero of architectural constructivity: the richness of the sources and the cult of contaminatio join in the refusal to render the sources studied really “historical.”

Bricolage is, as we know, among the most corrosive forms of antihistori- cism. In this sphere, everything is now permitted and everything is recov- erable. The subjective experience, which refounds history by its research, is forced to travel once more over that history which is like a labyrinth without exits: the heterotopia and the “voyage” are locked in a desperate enlbrace.

The metahistoric maze of the Carceri attempts, at any rate, to rational- ize itself in the etchings of the Diverse maniere. Its linguistic pluralism is agreeably presented, leading into a skepticism that manages to place rococo influences next to the boldest Etruscan-Egyptian-Roman collages. The loss of meaning, of its univocity, is fully explained: the Piranesian heterotopia consistently uses infinite dialectics.

liThe Wicked Architect” 53




Piranesi thus recognizes the presence of contradiction as absolute reality. And we do not ask which contradiction. The tools of his work exclude a similar specification, reaching levels of abstraction that permit multiple in- terpretations. The greatness of his “negative utopia” lies in his refusal to establish, after such a discovery, alternative possibilities: in the crisis, Pira- nesi seems to want to show, we are powerless, and the true “magnific- ence” is to welcome freely this destiny.

The Carceri, the Campo Marzio, and the Cammini thus reveal his rec- ognition-dramatic but for this very reason “virilely” accepted-of the in- herence of the aberrant within the real.

The dissolution of form and the void of the signifieds are thus the pres- entation of the negative as such. The construction of a utopia of dissolved form-what has been na’ively called Piranesian eclecticism-eonstitutes the recuperation of this negative, the attempt to utilize it.

In the ambiguity and specificity of his instruments of work-freely chosen, for that matter-Piranesi may appear as a critic of Enlightenment hypotheses; leaping over them with his secret aspiration to found new syntheses, he follows his own intuition to the end. It is not by chance that his criticism remains within the sphere of pure “possibility.” Architecture is nothing more than a sign and an arbitrary construction, then; but this is intrinsic to Piranesi’s discovery of the absolute” solitude” that engulfs the subject who recognizes the relativity of his own actions. To such an extent that one of the great anticipations of the future that can be identi- fied in Piranesi’s work is his founding of what would emerge as the ethic of the dialectical becoming of avant-garde art: of that art which-in the worlds of Fautrier-” can only destroy itself” and which” only by destroy- ing itself can constantly renew itself. “73

Prelude: II Apocalipsis cum Figuris”

To begin a and archite And yet, tc study by 5 nity to con film direeta examine so

In April amusing ar thousand \\ that is cine: quant!” Bu ous, since i finishing th article of n1 I will prob art. ”

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Theorie (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1970).

35. Ibid.

36. One should recall, however, what Kristeva wrote some years ago regarding semiological research; even starting out from a much less teleological Marxism than hers, one can well agree that” se- miological research remains a discipline that finds nothing more at the bottom of its investigations (no key to no mystery, Levi-Strauss would say) than its own ideological gesture, having to recognize it as such, to negate its own results, and to start all over again. By positing a precise knowledge as its final goal, it arrives upon completion of its itinerary at a theory that, being itself a signifying system, sends the semiological research back to its starting point-to the model of semiology itself, to criticize it and o~erturn it.” Julia Kristeva, “La semiologie camme science critique” in Theorie d’ ensemble (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1968), p. 83. Further- more, that semiological activity is “crea- tive” is taken for granted by a large segment of French criticism. Such an awareness is less evident in the attempts at a literal translation of the linguistic model into the field of the analysis of ar- chitectural texts. See again Garroni, Pro- getto di semiotica. Agreeing with some of his theses on the inappropriateness of speaking of “language” when dealing with architecture is the essay by Diana Agrest and Mario Gandelsonas, “Semiotics and Architecture: Ideological Consumption or Theoretical Work,” Oppositions 1 (1973): 94-100. An assessment of the recent re- search in architectural semiology can be found in Patrizia Lombardo’s article, “Se- miotique: l’ architecte s’ est mis au tic,” L’ architecture d’ aujourd’ hui 179 (1975): xi-xv. But see also Tomas Maldonado, “Architettura e linguaggio,” Casabella 41, no. 429 (1977): 9-10; Omar Calabrese, “Le matrici della semiotica dell’ architettura in Italia,” ibid., pp. 19- 24; and Ugo Volli, “Equivoci concettuali nella semiotica dell’ architettura,” ibid., pp. 24-27. Interesting, as the testimony of a working architect, is the interview with Vittorio Gregotti, “Architettura e linguaggio,” ibid., pp. 28-30.

Notes to Pages 20-26

1 The Wicked Architect

1. See M. Roethlisberger, “Da Bril a Swanewelt: Tondi olandesi di paesaggio. 1600-1650,” in Palatino 12, no. 4 (1968): 387 ff. The subject is further discussed in Maurizio Fagiolo dell’ Arco, Il Parmigi- anino: Un saggio sull’ ermetismo nel Cin- quecento (Rome: Bulzoni, 1970).

2. Calvesi has found a Vichian influence in the structures of the Carceri (Prisons) and a concrete reference to the Rome of the kings, conveyed by the evocation of the Mamertine prison. Although the con- nection with Vichian thought and the an- cient Roman cella may seem forced, it is undeniable that one of Piranesi’s theses is-as Calvesi writes-” that the grandeur of Rome was founded on civil virtues and on the equity and intransigence of its laws, which came about in the heroic Rome of the kings. A subsequent thesis is that Roman law is independent of Greek law, and that its nucleus decidedly dates from before the reform which Livy speaks of . . . ; a coordinate thesis is that clearly set forth by Piranesi in his writings, to the effect that Roman architecture, like all of Roman culture, developed indepen- dently of its Greek counterpart. At the origin of these developments is the nu- cleus of the Rome of the kings, that is, of the Rome that reaped its Etruscan heri- tage.” Maurizio Calvesi’s introduction to Henri Focillon’s Giovanni Battista Pira- nesi, ed. M. Calvesi and A. Monferini (Bologna: AHa, 1967), p. xvii; original ed., Giovanni Battista Piranesi: essai de catalogue raisonne de son c£uvre (Paris: H. Laurens, 1918). Plate 16 of the Car- ceri, especially after the elaboration of the second state, serves as a key to help the reader find the political metaphor con- cealed therein. The inscription Ad terro- rem increscen(tis) audaciae derives from Livy’s description of the Mamertine Prison in the life of Ancus Marcius (1.33); the inscription imprinted at the top of a column, Infame scelus … ri in- felid suspe, can be integrated, according to Calvesi, with Arbori infelici suspende, connecting it to the episode of Horatius’s murder of his sister, under the reign of Tullus Hostilius. New relevant details





have been supplied by Silvia Gavuzzo Stewart in her essay, “Note sulle Carceri piranesiane,” L’Arte 4, nos. 15-16 (1971): 55-74, in which she recognizes in plate II, added to the second edition, pre- cise references to passages in Tacitus re- garding Nero’s cruelty; she then finds multiple meanings in the Carceri, in par- ticular considering the transformation that it underwent in the second edition and questioning an interpretation based solely on plate XVI. See also Patricia May Sekler’s “Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Carceri: Etchings and Related Drawings,” The Art Quarterly 25, no. 4 (1962): 331- 63, for confirmation of Piranesi’ s refer- ence to Livy; whereas Phillip Dennis Cate’s essay, “Piranesi’ s Imperial Vision of Rome,” Art News 72, no. 7 (1973): 40-44, proves to be of little use, despite its pronlising title.

3. See Lrlya Vogt-G6knil, Giovanni Bat- tista Piranesi’s “Carceri” (Zurich: Grigo Verlag, 1958). See as well Augusta Mon- ferini’s catalogue in the appendix to Focil- lon’s Giovanni Battista Piranesi, where certain philological inaccuracies contained in the cited volume are pointed out. Among the romantic-existential interpre- tations of the Carceri, apart from De Quincey’s Confessions, the prototype of them all, see J. Adhemar and A. Huxley, Prisons, with the II Carceri” Etchings, by G. B. Piranesi (London: Trianon Press, 1949); M. Yourcenar, “Les Prisons imagi- naires de Piranese,” La Nouvelle Revue Franfaise 9, no. 7 (1961): 63-78; idem, Le cerveau noir de Piranese (Paris, 1962); G. Poulet, “Piranese et les poetes roman- tiques fran~ais,” La Nouvelle Revue Fran- faise 13, no. 160 (1966): 666-71, and 14, no. 161 (1966): 849-62, and reprinted in Sensibilita: e razionalita nel Settecento, Atti del convegno della Fondazione G. Cini, ed. Vittore Branca, vol. 2 (Florence: Sansoni, 1967), pp. 629-58; Luzius Keller, Piranese et les romantiques fran- fais: Le my the des escaliers en spirale (Paris: ]. Corti, 1966)-a work the origi- nal draft of which, later expanded into a degree thesis, served as the basis for the above-cited articles by Poulet. Note, in all these essays, the insistence upon the theme of the labyrinth and the staircase

Notes to Pages 25-26

as symbols of consciousness sinking into itself and of the “eternal recurrence.” The relationship that Brusatin sees between the Carceri and the Arsenal of Venice is without foundation. See Manilo Brusatin, Venezia nel Settecento (Turin: Einaudi, 1980), pp. 333-48. In addition see Wil- liam L. MacDonald, Piranesi’s II Carceri” : Sources of Invention (Smith College, Northampton, 1979).

4. “In the Carceri,” writes Ulya Vogt- G6knil, “Piranesi clearly shows that Eu- clidean geometry does not represent for him the only architectural solution. The artist’s definitive break with the laws of central perspective is here evident. Pira- nesi not only shifts the vantage point of the painting, but even adopts several van- tage points, thus literally causing the Eu- clidean space to collapse…. [In plate XIV] the open staircase to the left as- cends, bends toward the righ t at a right angle, at the base of the pier, to form a bridge whose width completely fills the space between the two piers. The bridge finishes upon the central pier. When we give an upward glance at the arch which joins the central pier to that on the left, it makes us dizzy because at the bottom the distance between the two piers is barely ~hat of a flight of stairs. At the level of the base, in front of the staircase going to the right, we suddenly notice that that branch does not at all remain between the two piers, since it ends in a platform situ- ated just in front of the pier itself. The second part, rising steeply to the right, begins at the edge of the pier. If we fol- low the joinings of the two piers higher up, we become more disoriented than ever: we suddenly realize that this vast interior has only two naves, rather than three. The two piers that we had viewed from the bottom as parts of two parallel arcades, observed from above belong to the same group. The space that the Hight of stairs going to the right occupies, in reality, then, does not exist.” Vogt-G6k- nil, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, pp. 34- 35. Cuomo has interpreted the Carceri as a kind of homage to the “absolute space” theorized by Newton-that is, to an empty and indefinite space in which bod- ies gravitate-and to the corpuscular the-




ory of light, emphasizing Newton’s relationship with the English hermetic-

cabalistic tradition and with deism, as well as Piranesi’s possible assimilation of N ew- ton’s ideas through works of a populariz- ing nature such as that of Algarotti. See Alberto Cuomo, “G. B. Piranesi e l’ar- cheologia per’ frantumi’ come scienze della citta,” in (various authors), Dalla citta preindustriale alla citta del capital- ismo, ed. Alberto Caracciolo (Bologna: 11 Mulino, 1975), pp. 103-20, esp. pp. 108- 10.

5. See in particular the British Museum catalogue, with preface by Edward Croft- Murray, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, his Predecessors and his Heritage (London: The British Museum, 1968), which lists among Piranesi’s predecessors Bramante, Salviati, Riccio, Guercino, the Parigis, Monsu Desiderio, Claude Lorrain, Salva- tor Rosa, G. Benedetto Castiglione, Valer- iani, Bibiena, Canaletto, Tiepolo, and

Juvarra. On the Piranesi-Juvarra relation- ship, see also John Harris, “Le Geay, Pir- anesi and International Neoclassicism in Rome (1740-1750),” in Essays in the History of Architecture presented to Ru- dolf Wittkower (London: Phaidon, 1967), and Carlo Bertelli, “Le parlanti rovine,” in GRAFICA grafica, vol. 2, no. 2 (Rome, 1976).

6. See May Sekler, “Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Carceri,” p. 335. According to Sekler, the observer of the Carceri is left unsatisfied and often frustrated: “In the description of the prison, a stimulation much more effective than allusions to the diabolical aspect is the substitution and, even, the destruction of what the observer is led to believe and suppose.” Thus for Sekler the fragmentation of details and the distribution of structural logic play an important role. “What seems coherent at first sight, upon closer examination disin- tegrates; the mind is finally defeated in its attempt to rationalize the irrational. The important elen1ent therefore is not the perception of the whole but the per- ception of the particular limits that induce one to seek an order that is not there” (ibid.). On Piranesi’s fragmentism, see Pane’s negative view, expressed in the name of a metahistorical organic unity,

Notes to Pages 26-27

Roberto Pane, Le acqueforti di G. B. Pira- nesi (Naples: Ricciardi, 1938); reprinted in Architettura e arti figurative (Venice: Neri Pozza, 1948.)

7. See May Sekler, “Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Carceri,” pp. 335 ff.

8. See Vincenzo Fasolo, “11 ‘Campo Mar- zio’ di G. B. Piranesi,” Quaderni dell’Istituto di storia dell’ architettura 15 (1956): 5, in which he con1ments on the “Tempio,” and Vogt-Goknil, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, p. 20, which gives a perspective rendering of the ground-plan of plate X of the Prima parte di architet- ture e prospettive. A typical example of Piranesi’s perspective distortion can be seen in drawing 1945, 10 of the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University. In it the statuary group inspired by I Trofei di Mario (The Trophies of Marius), when one observes only the right half of the composition, seems to stand at the center of the rotunda supported by a continuous row of coupled corinthian columns, while, when observed from the left half, it is seen to be external to the rotunda: in fact, the rotunda itself proves to be spiral- shaped. On this drawing, see Agnes Mor- gan, “Una fantasia architettonica di G. B. Piranesi,” Arte Veneta 5, nos. 17-20 (1951), and Hylton Thomas, The Draw- ings of G. B. Piranesi (London: Faber and Faber, 1954).

9. See Monferini’s catalogue in Focillon, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, pp. 292-94 n. 121. L’ ampio magnifico Collegio is one of the two plates added to the Prima parte when it was reprinted in the Opere varie of 1750.

10. See Harris’s essay, “Le Geay,” pp. 189-96. The neomannerist anticlassicism that Harris-following up a brief com- ment by Kaufmann-finds in the Le Geay-Piranesi-de Wailly current (see Emil Kaufmann, Architecture in the Age of Reason [Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Uni- versity Press, 1955], pp. 105-11) had al- ready been touched on by both Korte and Wittkower. See W. Korte, “G. B. Piranesi als praktischer Architekt,” Zeitschrift fur Kunstgeschichte 3 (1933): 16 ff.; R. Wittkower, “Piranesi’s Parere su l’ archi- tettura,” Journal of the Warburg Institute





2 (1938-39): 147-58; idem, “Piranesi as Architect,” in Piranesi (Northampton, Mass.: Smith College Museum of Art, 1961), pp. 99-109. A contestation of Har- ris’s thesis is found in J. M. Perouse de Montclos, Etienne-Louis Boullee, 1728- 1799, de l’ architecture classique a l’ archi- tecture revolutionnaire (Paris: Arts et Metiers Graphiques, 1969); and in the chapter on Le Geay in the catalogue Pir- anese et les Franfais, 1740-179Q–for an exhibition originating at the Academie de France in Ron1e, then shown in Dijon and in Paris, May-November 1976-(Rome: Edizioni dell’Elefante 1977), pp. 179-200, with notes by Gilbert Erouart, Werner Oeschlin, and Pierre Arizzoli. See also Georges BruneI, Introduction a Piranese, p.20.

11. See Bertelli, “Le parlanti rovine,” pp. 90-107.

12. In this regard see also Calvesi, Intro- duzione, p. xx.

13. G. B. Piranesi, Prima parte di archi- tetture e prospettive (Rome, 1743), dedi- catory letter to sig. Nicola Giobbe. The italics are mine.

14. See Focillon, Giovanni Battista Pira- nesi, pp. 127-33, and Jonathan Scott, Pir- anesi (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975), passim.

15. See C. Bertelli, “Visita a Santa Maria del Priorato,” Paragone-Arte 317-19 (1976): 180-88.

16. Piranesi, Prima parte . “Apropos of the kindnesses that you have shown me, I shall not finish this letter without re- minding you, to my infinite pleasure, of the friendship which, through your good graces, I have struck up with the two re- nowned architects of our time, Nicola Salvi and Luigi Vanvitelli, the merits of whom will be confirmed by posterity for their distinguished Works-most of all for the Fountain of Trevi, which the for- mer is about to complete, and for the Port and for the Lazzaretto (fever hospital) of Ancona, just completed by the lat- ter…. ” Piranesi thus favors the eigh- teenth-century reformers whom Benedetti-including in his definition the taste of the Bottari school-recently termed” Arcadian.” See Sandro Benedetti,

Notes to Pages 28-30

Roma 1730, situazione culturale, a report presented at the conference on Bernardo Vittone e la disputa Ira classicismo e bar- occo ne11700, Turin, 1972; and idem, “Per un’architettura dell’Arcadia, Roma, 1730,” Controspazio 3, nos. 7-8 (1971): 2-17. On the personality of Bottari and on Roman Jansenism, see Enrico Dam- mig, II movimento giansenista aRoma nella seconda meta del secolo XVIII (Vati- can City, 1945), pp. 62 ff.; as well as Er- nesto Codignola, IIluministi, giansenisti e giacobini nell’Italia del Settecento (Flor- ence: La Nuova Italia, 1947); and G. Pig- natelli and A. Petrucci, the entry “Bottari, Giovani,” in the Dizionario bio- grafico degli Italiani, vol. 13 (Rome: Isti- tuto della Enciclopedia Italiana, 1971), pp. 409-18. In any event, note that both Pir- anesi and Milizia belong to the Bottari circle: Bottari’s ethical rigorism and his program of cultural reform seem to act as catalysts for studies of markedly diverse natures.

17. See G. B. Bottari, Dialoghi sopra Ie tre arti del Disegno (Lucca, 1754), see in particular dialogue 2, pp. 68 ff., and dia- logue 3, pp. 143 ff. On Pascoli and his Testamento politico of 1733, see Eugenio Battisti, “Lione Pascoli, Luigi Vanvitelli e l’urbanistica italiana del Settecento,” in Atti dell’vIII Congresso nazionale di storia dell’ architettura (Caserta, October 1953), pp. 51-64, and in L’ antirinascimento (Milan: Feltrinelli, 1962), pp. 327 ff.

18. In his Homme-machine of 1747, La Mettrie states: “Who knows whether the reason for human existence is not exis- tence itself. Perhaps chance has deposited man on a given point of the earth’s sur- face without our knowing how and why…. We know nothing of nature: it may be that all things have been pro- duced by causes hidden in nature itself.” The atmosphere of the “machine” culture of the eighteenth century-one thinks, in addition to La Mettrie, of Condillac and of D’Holbach-with its antinaturalism and its skepticism, appears to have been critically screened by Piranesi; there is no doubt, however, that any cultural influ- ences that he may have absorbed were thoroughly shaped by an autonomous and specific figurative ideology. On these


F t a


f g d



themes, see Norman Hampson, The En- lightenment (Harmondsmith: Penguin, 1968).

19. “Whenever the wisdom of our Crea- tor intended that we should be affected with any thing, he did not confide the ex- ecution of his design to the languid and precarious operation of our reason; but he endued it with powers and properties that prevent the understanding, and even the will, which seizing upon the senses and imagination, captivate the soul before the understanding is ready either to join with them or to oppose them.” E. Burke, A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origins of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1756; reprint, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1958; Notre Dame and Lon- don: University of Notre Dame Press, 1968).

20. On this theme see G. May, “Diderot et Burke,” Publications of the Modern Language Association (1960): 527-39; S. Monk, The Sublime: A Study of Critical Theories in XVIII Century England, 2d ed. (Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michi- gan, 1960); Rosario Assunto, “11 trattato ‘del sublime’ dello pseudo- Longino nella cultura artistica del Settecento inglese,” in Stil und iiberlieferung in der Kunst des Abendlandes, vol. 3 (Berlin: Mann, 1967), pp. 169-91, and in Stagioni e ra- gioni nell’ estetica del Settecento (Milan: Mursia, 1967), pp. 63-108; and Georges Tyessot, Citta e utopia nell’Illuminismo inglese: George Dance, Jr. (Rome: Offi- cina, 1974), pp. 81 ff.

21. William Chambers, Dissertation sur Ie jardinage de [‘Orient (1772; issued the same year as the English edition), pp. 32- 33. See also note 36 below.

22. See Werner Oechslin, “Premesse all’architettura rivoluzionaria,” Contros- pazio 2, nos. 1-2 (1970): 1-15; and the two volumes of P. Marconi, A. Cipriani, and E. Valeriani, I disegni di architettura dell’ Archivio storico dell’ Accademia di San Luca (Rome: De Luca, 1974). On Piranesi’s Collegio, see Paolo Melis, “G. B. Piranesi: un Ampio magnifico Collegio per I’architettura: Intenzionalita iconolo- gica in un documento storico dell’I11uminesimo,” Psicon 2, no. 4

Notes to Pages 30-32

(1975): 85-99. Melis assumes that Pira- nesi’s project is in some way connected to the competition of the Academy of Saint Luke proclaimed by Benedict XIII in 1750, thus advancing an extremely debatable iconological interpretation.

23. See Scott, Piranesi, pp. 50-52.

24. Modern criticism has paid a good deal of attention to the figures inserted by Pir- anesi into his engravings-and into the Carceri in particular-stressing his repre- sentation of a degraded humanity and es- tablishing a stylistic relationship with the works of Callot and of Salvator Rosa. (Piranesi had the opportunity to study the Corsini collection in Rome, which con- tains works by Callot, Della Bella, and Rembrandt.) Bianconi notes how the Pir- anesi figure studies, which he saw in the Rezzonico collection in Rome at the end of the eighteenth century, depict cripples, hunchbacks, and the lowly in general; his rejection of the idealized humanity of Winckelmann is explicit (see Kurt Cassi- rer, “Piranesi disegnatore di figure,” Roma 2 [1924]: 180-81). The depiction of a sick and miserable humanity next to the vestiges, in an equal state of decay, of the ancient “splendor” has an explicit meaning. Just as the architectural frag- mentation is the denunciation of a lin- guistic absence, so the excessive human degradation is a call for a social reform that can no longer be put off. The figures of the tortured and their torturers in plate II of the Carceri (2d ed., 1751) is an ex- ception, however. Here the triumph of justice is twisted into the constraint to torture, meted out and undergone at the same time by a Promethean humanity; the indissolubility of the Contrat social and dominion is represented as an abso- lute. (Note the difference in size between the figures of the tortured and the tor- turer, and those of the public looking on fron1 the upper level; but consider as well Gavuzzo Stewart’s observations in her “Note sulle Carceri piranesiane. “) Sala- mon and Lopez-Rey have compared the Carceri of Piranesi with Goya’s Prisoners. Lopez-Rey, maintaining the worlds of Goya and Piranesi to be at opposite poles, observes that the human figures in the Carceri are present more to accentuate





the functioning of the machines than to communicate the experience of torment: the machines of torture, “gathered to- gether as in a collectors’ gallery,” thus become the means of alienating the sub- ject from” civil society.” See Jose Lopez- Rey, “Las Carceles de Piranesi, los prisi- oneros de Goya,” in Scritti di Storia dell’ Arte in onore di L. Venturi, vol. 2 (Rome, 1956), pp. 111-16; Ferdinando Salamon, “G. B. Piranesi,” Goya 66 (1965): 365-75. The Piranesi-Goya com- parison has also been adopted by Philip Hofer in the introduction to the edition of the Carceri published by Dover Publica- tions, New York, in 1973.

25. See note 10 above.

26. See W. Knight Sturges, “Jacques- Fran<;ois Blonde!'” Journal of the Society of Architectural Historians 11, nos. 1-4 (1952): 16-19; Kaufmann, Architecture; and Wolfgang Hernlann, Laugier and the 18th Century French Theory (London: A. Zwemmer, 1962).

27. G. B. Piranesi, Della magnificenza ed architettura de’ Romani (Rome, 1761), chap. 35, p. liii.

28. See also note 68 below.

29. Piranesi, Della magnificenza, chap. 58, p. xciii.

30. Ibid., chap. 61, p. ci. The Etruscan revival began, as we know, with the work by the Scottish architect Thomas Demps- ter, De Etruria regali (1723-26; but writ- ten between 1616 and 1619), which was followed by works by Gori, G. B. Passeri, and M. Guarnacci; Lucchesi, Piranesi’s uncle, also dealt with the Etruscans, at- tacking Scipione Maffei in Riflessioni sulla pretesa scoperta del sopraornato Toscano espostaci dall’ autore dell’ opera: Degli anfiteatri, in 1730. For an attack on Etruscan supremacy, see Winckelmann, Geschichte der Kunst des Altertums (Dresden, 1764). On the theoretical value of the “magnificenza,” see R. Wittkower, “Piranesi’s Parere”; Kaufmann, Architec- ture; idem, “Piranesi, Algarotti and Lo- doli: A Controversy in XVIII Century Venice,” Gazette des Beaux-Arts 46 (1955): 21-28, reprinted in Essays in Honor of Hans Tietze (New York, 1958), pp. 309-16; Lorenza Cochetti, “L’opera

Notes to Pages 32-36

teorica del Piranesi,” Commentari 1 (1955): 35-49; and Calvesi, Introduzione. On the “Egyptian taste” in Piranesi and on the history of this taste itself, see R. Wittkower, “Piranesi e il gusto egiziano,” in Sensibilita e razionalita nel Settecento 2: 659-74. New documents about Pira- nesi have been published in Alessandro Bettagno, ed., Piranesi fra Venezia e I’ Eu- ropa (Florence: Olschki, 1983).

31. Fasolo, If Campo Marzio. The graphic aspects of the Campo Marzio have been analyzed by Hofer. See Philip Hofer, “Piranesi as Book Illustrator,” in Piranesi, pp. 81-87. See also Franco Borsi’s intro- duction to the reedition of the Campo Marzio (Florence: Colombo Ristampe, 1972); John Wilton-Ely, “Vision and De- sign: Piranesi’s ‘Fantasia’ and the Graeco- Roman Controversy,” in (various authors) Piranese et les fran(ais, pp. 529-44; and Silla Zamboni, “11 Canlpo Marzio dell’ Antica Roma (1762),” in Piranesi: In- cisioni, rami, legature, architetture, ed. Alessandro Bettagno (Vicenza: N eri Pozza, 1978), pp. 44-48.

32. Massimo Cacciari, “Vita Cartesii est simplicissima,” Contropiano 3, no. 2 (1970): 375 ff.

33. This type of zoning in the northern area of the Tiber anticipates the projects of Valadier and of the French administra- tion in the creation of a vast public park in the same area. See Fasolo, If Campo Marzio, p. 3.

34. Note that in his fanciful restorations of the elevations, shown in bird’s-eye view, Piranesi accentuates the historical inauthenticity of his reconstruction. For example, in the trapezoidal area formed by the Tiber and the Euripis to the right of Hadrian’s Tomb, one sees the insertion of a building that has two angular turrets, vaguely reminiscent of aristocratic Ronlan architecture of the eighteenth century.

35. The erotic theme in the art and ar- chitecture of the period of the Enlighten- ment is worthy of particular study; the works of Lequeu offer an especially rich area for research.

36. Castell, in his 1728 work on ancient villas, interprets the garden described by Pliny as based upon a beauty consisting



of a “close Imitation of Nature; where, although the Elements are arranged with the greatest of Art, the Irregular is also respected; so that their style may justly be defined as an artful Confusion, where there is no sign of artifice and in which the Rocks, the Cascades and the Trees maintain their natural Forms,” succes- sively linking that “artful Confusion” to the characteristics of Chinese gardens (Robert Castell, The Villas of the An- cients, 1728, dedicated to Lord Burling- ton). On the significance of Castell’s treatise and its historical position in the sphere of the culture of Enlightenment, see the fundamental article by R. Witt- kower, “English Neo-Palladianism, the Landscape Garden, China, and the En- lightenment'” L’ arte 6 (1969): 18-35. It is significant that, less than thirty years later, we find these basic principles of the landscaped English garden transported to the area of urban theory (see M. A. Lau- gier, Essai sur I’ architecture [Paris, 1753], pp. 258-65, and also his Observations [Paris, 1765], pp. 312-13). The breaking of the laws of perspective vision passes, with Laugier, Piranesi, and later with Milizia, to the” compositional” law of the modern city (see also F. Milizia, Principi di architettura civile, 3d ed. [Bassano, 1813], 2: 26-27, in which Laugier’s pas- sage [Essai] is paraphrased in its en- tirety). In 1757 William Chambers, who in a number of ways knew the work of Le Geay and of Piranesi, had described three types of Chinese gardens-“pleasing, hor- rid, enchanted,” revealing how the third, which he also termed “surprising,” was populated with exotic plants and flowers, monstrous animals, ruined buildings, rag- ing waterfalls, and mysterious caves, and also how these scenes were rendered more terrifying by sounds of unidentifiable ori- gin, amplified by “artificial and compli- cated echoes.” Chambers saw that the Chinese were well aware of how “power- fully contrast operates in the mind”: the theme of the Carceri and later of the Campo Marzio is applied to nature, bend- ing it to the subjective laws of the sub- lime (William Chambers, Designs of Chinese Buildings [London, 1757], pp. 15 ff.). See Eileen Harris, “Burke and Chambers on the Sublime and Beautiful,”

Notes to Pages 36-38

in Essays, pp. 207 ff.; Dora Wiebenson, “‘Architecture terrible’ and the ‘jardin an- glochinois,'” Journal of the Society of Ar- chitectural Historians 27 (1968): 136-39; idem, Sources of the Greek Revival Ar- chitecture (London: A. Zwemmer, 1969); Teyssot, Citta e utopia, pp. 81-82, 97 n. 32.

37. M. Cacciari, “Dialettica e tradizione,” Contropiano 1, no. 1 (1968): 133. “In a certain way,” Cacciari continues, “the transcendental inquiry only serves to ex- tend the interpretive possibilities of the intellect of the Enlightenment, basing upon it the a priori necessity. But this also involves abstracting it from any de- mand for practical verification. The deter- mination of the autonomous sphere of reason calls into question the Enlighten- ment synthesis, the’ critique,’ instituting a new distance between reason and ra- tionalization, a distance that by no means signifies opposition to Zivilisation, but extreme dependence of the latter upon the cultural apriority and upon spiritual teleology. ”

38. “This [area] from the very begin- nings of Ron1e, dedicated to Mars, from which it took its name as well, remained open, for the teaching of the youth, as long as the Republic lasted, and for mili- tary exercises; but then luxury began to emerge, in particular when the Empire was given to one individual, and that site was no longer used by the military troops, but served to acquaint the popu- lace with pleasure, and buildings of every type began to be erected there, so that the Campo no longer seemed to be an appen- dage of Rome, but rather Rome, the sov- ereign of all cities, an appendage of the Campo, as Strabone has attested.” G. B. Piranesi, dedicatory letter to R. Adam, Il Campo Marzio dell’ antica Roma (Rome, 1762), p. b2; on the same theme, see also the introduction to chap. 6, p. 49.

39. Ibid., p. b2. The italics are mine.

40. Note that this judgment of inopera- tiveness is clearly expressed by Piranesi: “If one possessed of creativity to an ex- traordinary degree, and an adventurous spirit ready to undertake the greatest en- terprise, should, with the blessing of





Heaven and mankind, appear and invent new rules and new ideas for adorning and enriching architecture: this will be the quickest route for him to bring fame and glory to his name…. ” Piranesi, Della magnificenza, p. cxcix.

41. Scott, Piranesi, p. 173.

42. See G. C. Argan, La pittura dell’illuminisimo in Inghilterra da Rey- nolds a Constable (Rome: Bulzoni, 1965).

43. See Thomas, The Drawings (which dates the Piranesi drawing at 1743); Vogt-G6knil, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, pp. 19, 86 n. 7. See also F. Stampfle, G. B. Piranesi: Drawings in the Pierpont Morgan Library (New York: Dover, in association with the P. Morgan Library, 1978); and Faison Lane, Jr., “Rococo In- novator: The Protean Piranesi,” Art News 4 (1959): 45-47, 56.

44. The relationship between monadol- ogy and Leibniz’s aesthetic ideas in gen- eral, and baroque figurative culture is analyzed in detail in Rosario Assunto’s article, “Un filosofo nelle capitali d’Eu- ropa: la filosofia di Leibniz tra Barocco e Rococo,” Storia dell’ arte 3 (1969): 296- 337, which further develops the themes contained in Hans Barth’s article, “Barock und die Philosophie von Leibniz,” in Die Kunstformen des Barockzeitalters (Bern: Francke, 1956).

45. His Veneto origins and his many connections with English culture are fac- tors to be considered in determining the historical moment of this aspect of Pira- nesi’s poetics. As we shall note further on, Piranesi is well aware of the “semiotic quality” [segnicita] of Palladian architec- ture, as can easily be seen in the engrav- ings of the Prima parte di architetture; the absolute accessibility of architectural “signs” is a necessary element in the cre- ative process of the invenzione. It is thus unsurprising that the English architectural tradition, whose beginnings date from the work of Inigo Jones, can find in Piranesi a stimulus internal to its own thematics: one thinks of Adam and of George Dance, Jr., and even more of Soane.

46. Michel Foucault, The Order of Things (New York: Pantheon, 1970), pp. xviii

Notes to Pages 38-41

ff.; original ed., Les mots et les choses (Paris: Gallimard, 1966).

47. Scott, in his volume Piranesi, ana- lyzes at length the self-promotional activ- ities of Piranesi, who even in his choice of residences in Rome-first in front of the French Academy on the Corso, next to Wagner’s shop and near Bouchard’s book- store, and then at the Spanish Steps, a cosmopolitan center par excellence in 1761-proves to be an astute manager of his own wares (his controversy with Lord Charlemont offers further evidence of this fact). “In the chaos of the Caduta di Fe- tonte (Fall of Phaethon ),” observes Abruzzese, “. . . do we not find . . . the productive characteristics of an engraver who works to sell, that is, who in his spe- cific form of technical reproduction achieves an ever-stronger rapport with the public, a public which is also that of the antiquarians of the eighteenth cen- tury? Was it not this growing compre- hension of the mechanisms of perception on the part of the buyer that gave rise to the second version of the Prisons . . . , incredibly I deeper,’ more hypnotic and richer in chiaroscuro?” Alberto Abruzz- ese, “Editoria della illustrazione,” Rinas- cita 21 (1976): 26.

48. See G. B. Piranesi, Parere su I’ archi- tettura, together with the Osservazioni di Giovanni Battista Piranesi sopra la Lettre de Monsieur Mariette . .. (Rome, 1765), p. 2. On the Parere, see Wittkower, “Pir- anesi’s Parere,” in which the diversity of this text compared with the text of the Magni ficenza is linked to the “new man- .0er” of Piranesi’s architecture and to his anticlassical interpretation of Roman monuments after 1761. (We have tried to show, however, the coherence that links the project of the Ampio magnifico Colle- gio to the Carceri, to the Campo Marzio, and to the succeeding works-in partial disagreement with Wittkower’s interpre- tation.) Vogt-G6knil has found in the Parere the origin of a skeptical attitude, which validates every architectural lan- guage, connected to the Stilpluralimus of the plates annexed to the Parere itself and to the Diverse maniere d’ adornare i cam- mini. See Vogt-G6knil, “Parere su I’ ar- chitettura und Piranesis Praktische

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Architektur-Tatigkeit,” in Giovanni Bat- tista Piranesi, pp. 673 H. See also Kauf- mann, Architecture, pp. 105-11, and idem, “Piranesi, Algarotti and Lodoli” (in which he reproposes his theses of the pre- ceding volume); Cochetti, L’ opera teorica; Maria Grazia Messina, “Teoria dell’ architettura in Giovanbattista Pira- nesi,” Controspazio 2, nos. 8-9 (1970): 6-10, and 3, no. 6 (1971): 20-28, which adds practically nothing to the texts cited. See in addition Carlos Sambricio, “Pira- nesi y el Parere,” Revista de Ideas esteti- cas (1972): 81-101.

49. Piranesi, Parere su l’architettura, p.2.

50. Ibid.

51. Carlo Andrea Rana, L’ alfabeto in prospettiva, ventuno abbozzetti, … ar- chitettura per ricreamento (Turin, nd.). See as well the architectural alphabet of Johann David Steingruber (Schwabach, 1773); the volume La lettre et l’image, ed. Massin (Paris, 1970); and the article by Virgilio Vercelloni, “Costruire a chiare lettere. (Da Goethe ai Pop),” Psicon 7 (1976): 97-106.

52. “You would like us to stay,” Disdas- calo exclaims, “in those huts from which the Greeks had gotten their ideas for dec- orating their own architecture”-with an evident reference to Le Roy and to Algar- otti, the latter having disagreed with Lo- doli precisely with regard to the normative meaning of the primitive hut. “The sophist is you,” continues Didascalo, “who dictate rules to architecture, some- thing which it has never had. What would you say if I proved to you that the severity, the raison d’etre, and the imita- tion of the huts are incompatible with ar- chitecture 7 That architecture, far from wanting ornaments derived from the parts necessary to construct a building and keep it standing, consists of ornaments which are totally extraneous 7”

53. In a significant passage in the Parere, Protopiro and Didascalo agree that it is “the use which makes the law” (even if the former adds, “but not the abuse”). The Piranesian use is conceptually totally similar to the arbitrary principle of archi- tectural beauty that Perrault had recog-

Notes to Pages 41-48

nized in the A utorite and in the accoutumance, and that Wren in turn had called “Customary Beauty.” See Claude Perrault, Les dix livres d’ architecture de Vitruve (Paris, 1673; 2d ed., 1684), p. 13 n. 12; and Christopher Wren, Tract I, p. 352. On the same theme, see M. Tafuri, ‘” Architectura artificialis’: Claude Per- rault, Sir Christopher Wren e il dibattito sullinguaggio architettonico,” in Atti del convegno internazionale suI Barocco (1969) (Lecce, 1972). Piranesi’s antinatur- alism is totally accepted by the Adams, who write in their Works (I, I, pp. 6-7): “Unlike other arts, architecture does not have a model to be found in nature to which the artist can always refer. . . . In architecture this model must of necessity be formed and perfected on the basis of an educated taste and an exacting study of the beautiful in the work of the great masters . . . ,” thus founding the empiri- cal tradition of English culture, the results of the eighteenth-century debate on the subject of taste, and the teaching of Pira- nesi. See Damie Stillman, “Robert Adam and Piranesi,” in Essays, pp. 197-206.

54. Piranesi, Parere su l’architettura, p.2.

55. Ibid.

56. See Calvesi, Introduzione, pp. xx-xxi.

57. The italics are mine.

58. Pierre Klossowski, Sade prossimo mio (Milan: Garzanti, 1975), pp. 15-16; origi- nal ed., Sade mon prochain: Le philo- sophe scelerat (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 1970).

59. Ibid., pp. 50-51.

60. Korte, “G. B. Piranesi,” and Witt- kower, “Piranesi as Architect.” On Santa Maria del Priorato, besides the hagio- graphic and incorrect article of G. Bri- gante Colonna, “G. B. Piranesi e la chiesa del Priorato sull’ Aventino,” Rivista dell’ ordine de Malta 6, no. 6 (1942): 8- II, see Giulio Pediconi, “Un particolare piranesiano,” Quaderni dell’Istituto di storia dell’ architettura 15 (Rome, 1956): 15 ff. (a comment upon the base-relief of the altar of San Basilio); Renzo U. Mon- tini’ “Santa Maria del Priorato sull’Aventino,” Capitolium 30 (1955): 103-12; idem, Santa Maria del Priorato,





(Rome: Marietti, 1960); Bruno Molajoli, “Piranesi architetto,” Bollettino del centro A. Palladio 5 (1963): 212-14 (taken en- tirely from Wittkower’s article, “Pira- nesi”); Heinrich Brauer, “G. B. Piranesi verwirklicht einen Traum: Eine Zei- chnung zum St. Basilius Altar in S. ta Maria del Priorato,” Miscellanea Biblio- thecae Hertzianae (Munich, 1961): 474- 77. Korte in 1933 had partially clarified the problem in construction faced by Pir- anesi, establishing 1568 as the date of the original construction of the church and the palazzo of the Knights of Malta; the eighteenth-century restorations involve only the vault, the decorations, the apse and the fa<;ade of the church. To the five drawings of details for these works, con- served in the Pierpont Morgan Library (see Felice Stampfle, “An Unknown Group of Drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi,” The Art Bulletin 30, no. 2 [1948]: 122-41, and idem, the catalogue Giovanni Battista Piranesi, An Exhibition of Drawings [New York, 1949]; also see now her catalogue of Piranesi’s drawings conserved in the Pierpont Morgan Li- brary), the research of James Grote van Derpool has added to our knowledge an unpublished volume of accounts, con- served in the Avery Library of Columbia University in New York. Wittkower, in Piranesi, has closely examined the manu- script relative to the works of the master mason Giuseppe Pelosini (2 November 1764-31 October 1766), establishing- against the opinion of Korte- that the vault of the church, too, remains that built in the sixteenth century, except for the decoration and the roof, the latter having been restored for technical rea- sons. The symbolic themes used by Pira- nesi for the church and the square on the Aventino have been carefully studied by John Wilton-Ely, who observes how the sarcophagus containing the sixteenth-cen- tury eye of the fa<;ade alludes to the church’s function as a tomb and recalls the rite of the Armilustrium, described by Varro and by Livy, in reference to the steles and obelisks of the piazza. See John Wilton-Ely, “Piranesian Symbols on the Aventine,” Apollo, n.s., 170 (1976): 214- 27. New critical interpretations of Pirane- si’s work at the Priory have been set

Notes to Pages 48-49

forth in the articles by Sylvia Pressouyre, “La poetique ornamentale chez Piranese et Delafosse,” in Piranese et les fran(ais, pp. 423-34, and by M. Tafuri, “11 com- plesso del Priorato sull’Aventino,” in Pir- anesi, ed. Bettagno, pp. 78-87.

61. See Manfred F. Fischer, “Die Umbau- plane des G. B. Piranesi fur den Chor von S. Giovanni in Laterano,” Munchner Jahrbuch der bildenden Kunst 19 (1968): 207-28. Piranesi’s projects have been dis- cussed by Stampfle in “An Unknown Group,” Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and Piranesi, Drawings and Etchings at Co- lumbia University, exhibition catalogue (New York, 1972), esp. pp. 13-68, and the notes by Dorothea Nyberg.

62. NI. 6331-3440 f., Kunstbibliothek, Berlin (circa 1764), published in A. Hyatt Mayor, G. B. Piranesi (New York: H. Bittner, 1952), p. 92; see also Brauer, G. B. Piranesi.

63. Pinelli has attempted to question our interpretation of the altar of the Priory- presented in outline form in Teorie e sto- ria dell’architettura (Bari: Laterza, 1968), p. 40-on the basis of a simplistic reading of the Parere, not realizing that the dual- ism of the altar itself is the final expres- sion of the “agonizing dialectic of history,” which he himself has recognized as central in Piranesi. See Antonio Pinelli, “Dialettica del revival nel dibattito clas- sico-romantico,” in G. C. Argan, ed., If revival (Milan: G. Mazzotta, 1974), p. 74. For an interpretation of Piranesi’s po- etics radically different from that pro- posed here, see J. Wilton-Ely, The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978).

64. On this theme and its consequences in the transformation of architectural dis- cipline in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, see G. Teyssot’s notable article, “Illuminismo e architet- tura: saggio di storiografia,” introduction to the Italian translation of the work by E. Kaufmann, Tre architetti rivoluzionari (Milan: F. Angeli, 1976), pp. 7-73; origi- nal ed., Three Revolutionary Architects: Boullee, Ledoux, and Lequeu (Philadel- phia: American Philosophical Society, 1952).







65. Piranesi, Parere.

66. The hypothesis advanced by Calvesi, that Piranesi belonged to a hermetic-ma- sonic circle of English origin, seems per- plexing-not because traces of hermetic symbolism can not be found in Piranesi’s works, but because the use that he makes of these symbolic motifs should be con- sidered in the light of the dialectic we have attempted to clarify. It is true that many of the artists influenced by Pirane- si’s example are linked in varying degrees to Rosicrucian and Masonic sects. In Pira- nesi’s case it is clear that, although cer- tain elements of those ideologies may have influenced his works-the decoration of the Caffe degli Inglesi must have lent a decidedly esoteric touch to the establish- ment-the value of his utopia is surely not to be found in the vague proposals of brotherhood and of an aristocratic gradus ad Parnasum, elitist and private, which is really all that the Masonic contribution amounts to here. The last point is well illustrated in Rene Le Forestier’s ency- clopedic work La Franc-mafonnerie tem- pliere et occultiste aux XVIII et XIXe

siecles, published by Antoine Faivre, with an introduction by Alec Mellor (Louvain- Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1970); (on Ro- man Freemasonry, see also William Hoghan, “The Jacobite Lodge at Rome, 1753-1757” [1910], in La Franc-mafon- nerie templiere). As far as Piranesi’s em- phasis on Egyptian art is concerned, it seems to us that Calvesi’s hypotheses are already refuted in Wittkower’s article “Piranesi e il gusto egiziano.” Wittkower, in fact, observes that as far back as 1741 William Warbercon was poking fun at A. Kircher’s hermetic Egyptology, and that Piranesi adhered rather to the school of scientific historicism based on archaeolog- ical detachment, which had been intro- duced by Fischer von Erlach’s Entwurf. On this theme, see also Nikolaus Pevsner, “The Egyptian Revival,” now in Studies in Art, Architecture and Design, vol. 1 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1968). On the architecture linked to Masonic rites, see Anthony Vidler’s notable article “The Architecture of Lodges: Ritual Form and Association Life in the Late Enlighten- ment'” Oppositions 5 (1976): 75-97, plus

Note to Page 50

an ample bibliography, which notes, among other things, the Masonic faith of Laugier. Calvesi’s thesis has been refuted by Scott, without adequate discussion (see Scott, Piranesi, p. 306 n. 9) and by Ber- telli, who observes how certain symbols that Calvesi interprets as hermetic-la dextrarum junctio of one of the Cap ricci, for exan1ple-are merely memories of gems or Roman funeral cippises, while the hand that pours the wine, in another of the Capricci, is one of the ironic nota- tions frequently found in Piranesi’s work. See Bertelli, “Le parlanti rovine,” p. 101. It is also necessary to reflect on Piranesi’s political ambiguity, keeping in mind his ties with the Jesuit world and with Father Contucci in particular. Piranesi’s political ambiguity is evident in any case: his ties with Bottari-who from 1722 was inter- ested in Jansenist ideas, fron1 1730 was a ferocious anti-Jesuit, and from 1749 was active as a recognized leader of the filo- Jansenist movement, always in an anti- Jesuit role-is hardly in keeping with the defense in favor of the Jesuits that Pira- nesi made to Clement XIII Rezzonico, ac- cording to Legrand’s testimony.

67. G. B. Piranesi, Ragionamento apolo- getico in defesa dell’ architettura egizia e toscana, dedicatory letter, attached to the Diverse maniere d’ adornare i cammini ed ogni altra parte degli edifici (Ron1e, 1769). It is interesting to note how in this work Piranesi, in addition to coming to the defense of Chinese art (p. 10), intro- duced a vague naturalism as the origin of particularly bizarre decorative forms, comparing marine fossils and shells with ancient decorative motifs. Regarding hier- oglyphics, he observes: “In some stones we see certain horizontal rows, one di- vided from the other by lists, and in whose compartments we see a row of buttons, or pointed and hollowed-out bars. In my opinion, these were surely not symbols, but pure ornaments of those stones which belonged to architecture more than to anything else” (p. 10). After stating that “the great number of ornaments is not harmful to the works which they decorate … [except] with re- gard to the character and the ways which one desires to imitate,” and that” every





nation has its own [ways] from which it is wrong to depart,” Piranesi immediately proposes his theory of the contaminatio, contradicting the conclusions of his theoretical reflections. On the Diverse maniere, see Alvar Gonzales Palacios, “Diverse Maniere d’ adornare i Cammini … ,” in Piranesi, ed. Bettagno, pp. 56-61.

68. Piranesi, Ragionamento apologetico, pp. 3-4. The citation of the passage by Montesquieu and Piranesi’s observations regarding it can already be found in the Parere. In the Ragionamento apologetico, Piranesi attributes the entire orientation expressed in the engravings of the Di- verse maniere to the taste and the wishes of Monsignor Rezzonico, to whom the volume is dedicated. “I perceived,” he writes, “in your approval of my work, Sire, that, unhappy with the modern fashion of decorating architectural works, you would prefer that our Architects use not only the Greek ways, but the Egyp- tian and Etruscan as well, and with wis- dom and discernment take from them that which they offer us of what is grace- ful and beautiful and of noble intellect, and only that. Thus in fact did the Ro- mans, who after centuries of using Etrus- can architecture, then adopted that of Greece, and used them together … ” (Ragionamento apologetico, dedication). “Such delicacy of taste,” Piranesi contin- ues, “such cultivated discernment, could only, and in fact did, disgust you with the strange ways of modern architecture, and make you desire that we abandon that path and take up that which was followed by the ancients, both Romans and Greeks, and whose monuments we so admire.” Throughout the dedicatory letter, Piranesi shows his disapproval of the “strange ways of modern architecture”-a criticism of the Baroque that, after Didascalo’s reevaluation in the Parere of Bernini and Borromini, will seem contradictory only to one who has not understood the con- stant presence of the affirmative and the negative in Piranesi. It is not by chance that precisely in the Diverse maniere we find drawings of tables and sedan chairs in pure rococo style. See Wittkower, “Piranesi e il gusto egiziano”; Eugenio Di

Note to Page 51

Castro, “G. B. Piranesi e i mobili del Set- tecento italiano,” L’Urbe 24, no. 2 (1961): 23-28 (a comment on the draw- ings of furniture for Lord Exeter and for Cardinal Rezzonico); and Francis J. B. Watson, “A Side Table by Piranesi, a Masterpiece of Neo-Classic Furniture,” The Minneapolis Institute of Arts Bulletin 54 (1965): 19-29, in which, in addition to the fireplaces for Thomas Hope (today at the Rijksmuseum) and for Burleigh House, Watson describes a table for Car- dinal Rezzonico (Diverse maniere, pI. LIV), in the collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and an unpublished pre- paratory drawing relative to it, at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. (See as well in the appendix to Watson’s article, Anthony Clark’s note, “Brief Bi- ography of Cardinal Giovanni Battista Rezzonico,” pp. 30-31.) In addition, Wil- liam Rieder has identified two drawings at the Pierpont Morgan Library as studies for two fireplaces that Grimston had pre- viously attributed to Piranesi, at Gorham- bury (Charlotte Grimston, The History of Gorhambury [London, 1821], p. 90). He has also published four Piranesi drawings relating to the Diverse maniere in three folios of the Sven Gahlin collection, Lon- don. See William Rieder, “Piranesi’s Di- verse maniere,” The Burlington Magazine 115, no. 842 (1973): 309-17, and idem, “Piranesi at Gorhambury,” The Burling- ton Magazine 117, no. 870 (1975): 582- 91. On the influence of Piranesi’s models on Roman goldsmiths, bronze workers, and stonecutters, other than on the Vala- diers, see Alvar Gonzales-Palacios, “I mani del Piranesi. (I Righetti, Boschi, Boschetti, Raffaelli),” Paragone-Arte 27, no. 315 (1976): 33-48. Reference is made to the meaning of rococo for Piranesi in Andrew Robison’s article, “Piranesi’s Ship on Wheels,” Master Drawings 11, no. 4 (1973): 389-92.

69. Piranesi, Ragionamento apologetico, pp. 4-5.

70. Ibid., p. 33. The passage cited reveals once again Piranesi’s wavering between a yearning for the new and untried and an adherence to historically proven laws. “It is my desire to show,” he had written at the beginning of the Ragionamento (p. 2),



“that medals, cameos, intaglios, statues, bas-reliefs, paintings, and other such antiquities, can be of use not only to crit- ics and scholars in their studies, but in an equal measure to craftsmen for their work, incorporating into the latter, with artistry and skill, all that they admire and commend in the former. One who has even a slight acquaintance with the study of antiquity can see what a broad field I have opened up to the ingenuity of our artisans…. It seems that architecture, which was brought to the highest peak of perfection by our finest artists, is in de- cline, and headed back to that barbarous state whence it began. Such disregard for the rules-in the columns, in the archi- traves, in the tholuses, in the cupolas, and above all such eccentricity in the orna- ments! One might almost say that they decorate architectural works in order to deform them rather than to beautify them. I know that often the cause is more the whim of the contractors, who do the building, than of the architects, who cre- ate the design…. ” The polemic against licence and the yearning for freedom of the imagination recall once again the themes of the circle of Monsignor Bot- tari: a rigor tempered by freedom is in that sense one .of the postulates of the Piranesian utopia.

71. Cited in Scott, Piranesi, pp. 243-44.

72. For certain particulars relating to this theme, see Mario Praz, “Classicismo rivo- luzionario,” in Gusto neoclassico, 2d ed. (Naples, 1959), pp. 97 H., even though the author persists in finding a connection between Piranesi’s etchings and the taste for Walpole and for the Gothic novel.

73. Jean Fautrier, “Parallelen zur neuen Malerei,” Blatter & Bilder 1 (1959), and in Jiirgen Klaus, Teorie della pittura con- temporanea (Milan: II Saggiatore, 1967), p. 314; original ed., Theorien zeitgenos- sicher Malerei in Selbstzeugnissen (Ham- burg: Rowohlt, 1963).

2 The Historicity of the Avant-Garde

1. In his writings, Eisenstein frequently refers to the works of El Greco and Pira- nesi. See his detailed analysis of the View

Notes to Pages 52-58

and Plan of the City of Toledo in the es- say “Synchronization of Senses,” in The Film Sense, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1942), pp. 69-109; original ed., “Verti- kal’nyi montazh, stat’ya pervaya,” Iskus- stvo kino 9 (1940), or the reference to Piranesi’s compositional technique, “built from the movements and variations of counter-volumes,” in “Form and Content: Practice,” ibid., pp. 157 ff.; original ed., “Vertikal’nyi montazh, stat’ya tret’ya,” Iskusstvo kino 1 (1941). The essays “El Greco” and “Piranesi, or the Fluidity of Forms” are in volume 3 of Eisenstein’s complete works, Izbrannye proizvedeniia (Moscow: Iskusstvo, 1964), p. 145 ff. and 156 ff. respectively.

2. S. M. Eisenstein, Lessons with Eisen- stein (New York: Hill & Wang, 1962), p. 124; original ed., Na urokach rezhissury S. Eyzenshteyna (Moscow, 1958). Note that the passage cited follows an earlier reference to the dynamic composition of Piranesi’s Carceri.

3. Ibid.

4. S. M. Eisenstein, “Methods of Mon- tage” (1929) in Film Form: Essays in Film Theory, ed. and trans. Jay Leyda (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1949), p. 82.

5. Viktor Shklovsky, La mossa del cav- allo, and Sulla teoria della prosa (Turin: Einaudi, 1976), esp. pp. 12 ff. and 24 ff.; original ed., a teorii prozy (Moscow-Len- ingrad: KPYR, 1925). The “making strange” or “defamiliarization” of the ob- ject theorized in this fundamental text of Shklovsky’s leads inevitably to an inter- pretation of poetry as “impeded, tortuous language.”

6. See Roland Barthes, Critique et verite (Paris: Editions Ou Seuil, 1964), p. 64.

7. In fact, the relationships that Ooub- rovsky rejects are those with the formal- ism of Anglo-Saxon criticism. What is important to our argument here is the statement of the Nouvelle Critique re- garding the “primacy of the work”: “Every aesthetic object is the work of a human project.” Serge Ooubrovsky, The New Criticism in France (Chicago: Uni- versity of Chicago Press, 1973), p. 106;




1. Gio\,anbattlsta Plranesl. Careeri Pris- ons), plate L’ (second state), etching. In G. Piranesl, Careeri d’;m’en::;one Rome, 1761.



_______________________….. u-…1.-.__…;;..- ….~:.:.=….1 . -=~ _

2. GlOvanbattIsta Piranesi, Gruppo di scale ornato di magnifica architetturn (Group of stairs, embellished by magmfi- cant archItecture), plate X, etching. In G. Piranesi, Prima parte dl architetture f’ prospettive, Rome, 1743.

3. Perspective rendering of the ground plan of the Gruppo di scale ornato di magnifica architettura by Giovanbattista Piranesi .




4. Giovanbattista Piranesi, fantastic stage set, pen and water colors, c. 17-!4. Pans, Collection of the Societe des Archi tectes Diplomes par Ie Gouvernement.

5. Giovanbattista Piranesi. Capriccio ilL overall view, c. 1744. In G. Piranesi. Op- ere varie di architettllra, prospettil’i. grot- teschi, alltichita (Various works of architecture, grotesqueries, perspectives, antiquIties), Rome, 1750.



6. Giovanbattista Piranesi, Pianta di am- pio magnifico collegia (Plan of a magnifi- cent colIege), etching. In G. Piranesi, Opere varie.

7-8. Giovanbattista Piranesi, Carceri, plates XIV (second state) and II, etchings. In G. Piranesi, Carceri d’inven:ione.




9. Giovanbattista Piranesi, Careen, plate VII (first state), etchmg. In G Piranesi, Careeri d’illvell:ione.

10. Perspective rendering of of Giovanbattista Piranesi’s d’invenzione, plans of levels



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11. GlOvanbattista Piranesl, ground plan of the northern area of the Campus 1ar- tius. In G. Piranesi, II Campo Mar:io dell’ antica Roma, Rome, 1762.

12. Planimetric diagrams of the archItec- tural elements inserted in GlOvanbattlsta

10. Perspective rendering of plate VII of Giovanbattista Piranesi’s Careen d’invenzione, plans of levels b, c, d.



13. Giovanbattista Piranesi, dedicatory plate (second state). In G. Piranesi, Le Antichita Romane, book III, Rome, 1756.



14. Giovanbattista Piranesi, Vedllta di 11/1 ingresso alia stan:a superiore dentro al masso sepolcrale da Elio Adriano (View of an entry way to the upper room in Hadrian’s tomb) (Castel Sant’Ange]o), etching. In G. Piranesl, Le Antichita Ro-

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15. Gio\,anbattlsta Piranesi, Vedl/ta del sotterralleo [omlamento del mal/soleo e1le [II eretto da Elio Adriano (View of the underground foundation of the mauso- leum erected by Hadrian) (Castel Sant’Angelol. etching. In G. Plranesi. Le Alltichita Romalle, book IV.



16. Relief of the fa\ade of Santa Maria del Pnorato, Rome, built from the design of GJOvanbattista Piranesl, drawIng, eigh- teenth century. Soane Museum, London.


17. GJOvanbattista Piranesi, study for the altar of San BasIlio In Santa Maria del PrJOrato, Rome, draWIng, c 1765. Kun- stbibhothek, Berhn, Inv. no. 6331/3440.



18-19. Giovanbattlsta Plranesl, the altar of San Basilio (details of the side and the back), Santa Maria del Pnorato, Rome, c. 1765.



25. Giovanbattista Piranesl, design for the reconstruction of the apse of San GIOV- anni in Laterano (longitudinal section), c. 1765. Pierpont Morgan Library, ew York.

26. Giovanbattista Piranesi, design for the reconstruction of the apse of San Giov- anni In Laterano (cross section), plate XII, c. 1765, Avery Architectural Library, Co- lumbia Umverslty, ew York.



27. Giovanbattista Piranesi, design for an Imaginary mausoleum, c. 1770. Gorham- bury, St. Albans.

28. Giovanbattista Piranesi, title page, etching. In G. Piranesi, Diverse maniere d’ adornare i cammini ed ogni altra parte degli ediJizi (Diverse ways of adorning chimney pIeces and every other part of buildings), Rome, 1769.



29. Giovanbattlsta PJraneSl, Egyptian dec- oratIOn of the Caffl~ degli Inglesi in the Piazza di Spagna, Rome, etching. In G. Piranesi, Diverse maniere.



30. Jan-Laurent Le Geay, plate from the \-a:e. etching. In J-L. Le Geay,

Pan 1–0





31. John Soane, ground plan of the Brit- Ish Senate House, 1770.

32. John Soane, ground plan of a mauso- leum. Sonne Museum, London.

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33. George Dance, desIgn of the chim- neypiece of the Landsdowne Library, c. 1792-94. Soane Museum, London.

34. George Bailey, the dome of the house of John Soane (section). drawing, c. 1810. Soane Museum, London.




35. Joseph 1. Gandy, the dome of the house of John Soane (perspective ‘lew), drawmg, c. 1 13. Soane 1 1useum, London.

I Ei -enstem, schematic s e oscura con antenna. I atori (Dark pnson ‘I

r the torture of enldoer_ nt Battista Piranesl P ture e prospettlve Ro

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