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.
Here, exhibition curator Dr Colin Holden describes the people included in this superb 18th-century print,
Veduta delle due Chiese…presso la Colonna Trajana (View of two churches…near Trajan’s Column), from Piranesi's Vedute di Roma.
Watch the other videos in this 11-part series:
Read the transcript
This streetscape is close to Trajan’s Column, a monument dating from 114 AD, covered with a giant spiral wrap-around of sculpted reliefs of that emperor’s victories along the Danube River. It was among the classical sites that were most frequently visited by Grand Tourists. In the foreground of this view we can see the carriage of one well-to-do individual, to which others give way. But most of the people in this view are ordinary Romans going about their daily business. A man with a basket of fruit or vegetables that extends outside the frame of the image seems to be gesturing at others behind him, at men leading horses loaded with goods – more primary produce of some kind? (This also reminds us that the Rome of Piranesi’s day relied heavily on primary industry.) On the far right, an elderly man with a walking stick struggles home with a basket of provisions. On the extreme left is one of Rome’s many street taverns. A customer is seated on a bench outside, while another individual stands in the doorway, apparently ‘people-watching’. In the foreground, two men who are obviously members of religious orders gesture towards the two churches, Our Lady of Loreto on the left and the Most Holy Name of Mary on the right. The second of these had only recently been completed – it was consecrated in 1741, the year after Piranesi arrived in Rome.
In Piranesi’s day, visitors to Rome came not only to admire its classical buildings and ruins, but to see what was then modern architecture, including many of its baroque churches. But if our eyes run along the street on the right, what we see is another Rome – the housing and activities of its ordinary people. Less than a decade after Piranesi died, the great German author von Goethe, on an extended visit to Rome, made these comments: ‘In other places one has to search for the important points of interest: here they are crowded together. Wherever you look, every kind of view, near and distant, confronts you – palaces, ruins, gardens, small houses, stables, triumphal arches, columns – all so close together that they could be sketched on a single sheet of paper.’ He could almost have been describing this view.