Italian 18th-century master-printmaker Giovanni Battista Piranesi was famous for his images of classical and baroque Rome. This video series, 'Piranesi's people', reveals the details and meaning behind the figures depicted in prints featured in the Library's exhibition
Rome: Piranesi's vision.
In this video, exhibition curator Dr Colin Holden highlights the contrasts between the Grand Tourists and beggars seen in the print
Veduta del Tempio d’ Antonino e Faustina in Campo Vaccino (View of the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina in the Forum), from Piranesi's Vedute di Roma.
Watch the other videos in this 11-part series:
Read the transcript
We are in the Forum, the area of the classical city with the greatest concentration of important public buildings. In front of us is a 2nd-century temple, the temple of Antoninus and Faustina. It was still a place of worship in Piranesi’s day as a church has been built into the earlier Roman building. We can see its facade rearing up behind and over the temple’s original portico. In front of the temple, as often happens in Piranesi’s views of Rome, we meet people from quite opposite walks of life. Just in front of the wrought-iron gates between the central columns – the entrance to the church – a poor man, quite probably a beggar, and a companion engage in a conversation. Closer to us and to their right, another man is slumped on the ground against a monumental fragment; his body language suggests something like despair, or at least resignation. Nearby, a very different figure stands on another monumental fragment – a Grand Tourist, reading the inscription on the temple facade through a telescope. We can take it for granted that he has learnt enough Latin to be able to understand it. (It reads: To the deified Antoninus and Faustina – that is, Antoninus and Faustina, having become gods.) Further to the right, on the corner of a street running down the side of the temple, we can see a group of equally well-dressed visitors – more Grand Tourists, also viewing the temple. One of them might be a professional guide or personal tutor. Grand Tourists regularly hired professional tour guides, or brought their own personal tutors with them – in either case, men well educated in classical history and languages. Lastly, on the right, we can see a team of wheelwrights involved in what looks like backbreaking work. They are a reminder that for all of its grand buildings, Rome’s streets and public spaces were generally unpaved. Accidents involving broken axles and wheels were commonplace, even when your vehicle was the elegant coach we can see at the end of the side street.
The temple of Antoninus and Faustina, with the baroque church built into it almost fifteen hundred years later, was one of many sites in Rome where Christian symbols now dominated a structure from the classical world. Trajan’s Column, but with a statue of St Peter replacing an earlier statue of the Roman emperor, is another obvious example. The church not only regarded itself as having triumphed over Rome’s earlier religion; it also saw itself as having preserved the most worthwhile values of Roman civilisation.