Encyclopedia Ichnographica

Dixon, Susan M.


Dixon, Susan M.

letter to Sue Dixon

Dear Sue,
I'm going to relate all kinds of information and ideas in this letter, so I will treat it all as a collage.

In section C-8 you will find a dashed line angling down toward the lower left, emanating from the center of the Area Martis. If you follow the line down into the next quadrant (D-9), you will come upon fine print saying linea indicates viam triumphatem. You can follow this line down to the city wall at the bottom of the Ichnographia. If you take your time and read all the monuments and structures the procession route passes by, it evokes a very cinematic image.

In section J-16 (top) you will find the (almost) beginning of the Via Flaminia--what I believe to be the only street that Piranesi has named and delineated within the Ichnographia (except for a small portion of the Via Salaria in the lower right hand corner). Take note of the plebeian houses along the Via Flaminia running through I-16, J-16 & K-15.

Copies of buildings grouped according to building type. The plans on all six pages are at the same scale, and the grid on each page corresponds to the grid dimension on the Ichnographia. The placement of the plans on each page is random. Notice how the military buildings look like medals of honor and insignia. On the page numbered 240 you will find a plan labeled Villa Publica. I wonder if that mean "hotel"?

Single out the elements that have historical evidence behind them, i.e., separate the fact from the fantasy.

Overlay portions of the Ichnographia with maps from both the past and the present.

Categorize individual buildings according to type and see how this [categorization] relates to Piranesi's ideas of urban design and other 18th century ideas of urban design.

...ultimately present - represent - re-represent a "documentary" document.

Fragmentedly yours,

Piranesi's imagination

On the second night of my conversation with Sue Dixon we talked mainly about Piranesi, and especially his role as a proto-metabolic thinker/designer/etc. In the previous nights conversation we discussed the plurality and the assimilation/metabolism mix of our present time. While thinking during the day between our two conversations, it dawned on me more clearly that some physical manifestation of metabolism has been around since the appearance of the kidneys (from 1700 to 1800). It also dawned on me that Piranesi spans exactly the same period as the beginning of metabolism.

I asked Sue if she would agree that what Piranesi did (especially) in the Ichnographia of the Campo Marzio was to metabolize Roman architecture. After Sue asked me to again define metabolism, she then wholeheartedly agreed that metabolizing was exactly what Piranesi was doing, but not only in the Campo Marzio. Sue immediately talked about Piranesi's chimney pieces and candelabra as designs composed through a breaking down and re-combination of many disparate historical elements.

To further the discussion, and as an aside, I mentioned that I believe that the early modern movement in architecture falls much more in the camp of assimilation (absorption and purging), and that only in some (perhaps rare) cases did modern architecture reach the metabolic camp, e.g. I believe Le Corbusier's late architecture is a prime example of how an architect can make the transition from assimilation to metabolism.

Sue then brought up some of Piranesi's other works, namely the Prisons, and I said I thought they were Piranesi's good-bye to assimilation. Sue talked about how there is no clear source of patronage for the Prisons, and how that may suggest a more personal involvement on Piranesi's part, and then by extension the Prisons may carry a personal/specific message. Sue also made the point that there are two Prison series (something like 20 years apart), and that they are different in execution, and she was therefore led to question again if there is a very personal message to be gotten for the two series.

new insights - material from Sue Dixon

After going through the material sent by Sue Dixon, I found some new insights concerning my interpretations of the Campo Marzio. Through Sue's glossary of Latin words I now know the program of the Bustum Hadriani (and likewise the Bustum Augusti) which is essentially one enormous "death machine" -- it is an entire complex devoted to the logistics of passing from this life to the next. (Just now I thought of Rossi's original plan for the cemetery of Modena.) There are crematoriums and banquet halls and a stage (for viewing perhaps?), tombs galore for family and slaves -- like one gigantic funeral home on an Imperial scale.

Of course, this reinforces my idea of the Bustum Hadriani as an axis of death which is 90 degrees perpendicular to what I believe is the axis of life. That Piranesi put such a large emphasis on death is not at all inappropriate, however, given the fact that the dead of Rome were buried outside the (old) walls, i.e. very often in the Campo Marzio.

abstract to Acadia 97

"Capturing more than meets the eye"

Given that CAD has enhanced the graphic dexterity of an architect in innumerable ways, the proposed paper will address how today's architect might best harness the new representational power now literally at his or her fingertips. Rather than lauding the virtues of only the latest advances in photo-realistic imaging and computer animation, attention will be given to CAD's role vis--vis traditional architectural drawing types, namely, plans, elevations, sections, axonometrics, and perspectives.

The proposed paper's first point will advocate a tromp l'oeil approach to the problem of presenting diverse graphical data through the combination of various drawing types. This begins from a historical perspective by quoting Piranesi and offering the background of his representational approach via Susan M. Dixon's doctoral dissertation entitled The Image and Historical Knowledge in mid-eighteenth-century Italy: Piranesi's archeological publications (Cornell, 1991). Next the paper will call out the uncanny similarity between many Piranesi engravings and the view of a computer screen when many "windows" are active and displayed simultaneously. Moreover, the comparison will allow the projection of the concepts underlying mid-eighteenth-century representations onto the multi-framed views so prevalent on computer screens today.

Just as Piranesi chose to include pertinent graphic data of varying types (in his representations) in order to successfully "portray" maximum information, the proposed paper's conclusion will demonstrate, through specially generated computer renderings, the various ways an architect can today likewise offer utmost information by simply maximizing what may be considered the more mundane capabilities of CAD and photo-publishing software packages. Specifically, the new renderings will illustrate how images that combine 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional drawings, along with the further combinational effect of displaying some drawings in black and white, some with color fill, and some as shaded renderings, not only make use of a variety of CAD and computer graphic techniques, but, furthermore, affords the possibility of a synergistic portraying of more than is actually represented.

Susan M. Dixon, The Image and Historical Knowledge: a cultural context for Piranesi's archaeological publications, Doctoral dissertation, Cornell University, Jan. 1991.

When Piranesi decided to write and then illustrate his own archaeological tests in the 1760s, he used a wide variety of representational modes indigenous to his trade as graphic illustrator. There were vedute images of the ruins in the tradition of Ficoroni and other antiquarians; capricious compilations of artifacts in the mode of Bianchini; and maps, plans, sections, and other geometric drawings as employed by the many French and English architects and scholars compiling archaeological publications at the time, e.g., LeRoy and Stuart and Revett. To these, Piranesi added the engraved collage, a mixed bag of any variation of the above methods of representation.

When we consider Ludivico Muratori's assertion that maps or geometric drawings convey a wealth of sense impressions, as do vedute or perspectival drawings, each evoking more than what is actually present in the representation, and Francesco Bianchini's proposal that a "complete figure" of a compilation of fragments can do the same, Piranesi's images take on a great significance. In the artist's depiction of all of these types of representational modes, sometimes in conjunction with one another on the same sheet, one cannot but see a way of evoking more than is actually depicted. This is no small task as Piranesi managed to depict a great deal. Products of his fantasy, Piranesi's images are representative of how fantasy operates according to such contemporary thinkers and archaeologists as Muratori. As we have discussed above, fantasy was that selective operation on a wealth of visual evidence which eventually created a "complete figure" in the mind.

Piranesi often mentioned his own artistic intervention with the artifacts, his operation on the ancient fragments. In his archaeological texts, he did not define this intervention as the historic use of fantasy or the artistic creative impulses, although he had referred to this process in his Diverse maniere d'adornare i cammini (1769). Nonetheless, he surely understood that his input into the making of historically and archaeologically viable images was both justifiable and necessary.

Piranesi's comments on the assemblage of his archaeological images are interesting when considered in relation to Bianchini's. For example, in plate one of his Antichita d'Albano e di Castel Gandotfo, he depicted in the background a bird's eye view of "the site where [the temple of Giove Laziale] was, on the summit of Mount Albano, above the Lago Albano," and before this view, bracketed off in a frame, many ancient fragments -- both architectural and sculptural. Master of the dramatic perspective, and in the literature referred to as influenced or educated by the great illusionist Bibiena family, Piranesi arranged these pieces artfully before the far-reaching view, a composition which must have appealed to him, for it is formally akin to a plate in Il Campo Mazio. The artifacts depicted, he stated, were nearly all found outside the actual site of the temple of Giove Laziale, but within the area depicted in the view. In representing them, he "chose those that more than the others seemed [to him] to fulfill the common desire to know more than one [at present] is able" about both the temple and the region of Lazio. By his admission, then, his choice and compilation of artifacts into one image actually conveyed more about the past, and possibly new knowledge of that past, than that conveyed by the individual pieces in their respective sites.

Piranesi believed that maps conveyed a range of information for they were important recurring motifs in his oeuvre, as witnessed by his involvement with the Nolli Map of 1748, by his use of the Forma Urbis to situate the Roman monuments and organize their presentation in his Antichita Romane of 1756, and particularly by his illustration of the 1760s archaeological texts. Although he had stated that it mattered little if one knows exactly where the fragments were originally found, it was important that the site on which they were found was identified and then represented. For example, in Antichita d'Albano e Castel Gandolfo, he noted that fragments of architectural monument could tell "the form, then the type, the height and breadth," of the original building, but they could teach nothing without knowledge of the original site. Piranesi's inclusion of many maps in his archaeological texts was a reflection of a larger fascination in Rome at the time with maps and mapping. Symptomatic of this same trend was Muratori's statement that the workings of fantasy were somehow comparable to the process of map-making which abstracts information yet conveys more of that information by its diagrammatic representation. This way of perceiving maps, in combination with the importance Bianchini assigned to clarifying and then illustrating the archaeological site in a site plan or map, instilled in Piranesi the value of presenting archaeological material using mapping conventions.

Piranesi wrote in the preface of his Antichita Romane of 1756: "I have portrayed ... the ruins, representing of them more than their exterior facades, but also their plans, their interiors, distinguishing their parts in section and profile and indicating materials and manners of construction -- according to what I could derive in the course of many years of exact observation, excavation and research..." This was, in effect, a whole body of information that took him years to accumulate. The plan, section and elevation alone would not suffice.


Unlike contemporary French architects, Piranesi felt that the combination of geometrical with perspectival drawing was not condemnable, but necessary to "portray" the monuments with maximum information, in fact to portray more than what was actually represented.

In the archaeological plates of the 1760s, the artist combined different types of illustrations -- plans, sections, views and details -of different scales. He placed them on sheets of paper that were represented in trompe l'oeil fashion, and arranged the sheets in a collage assemblage, adhering them to the surface of the page by trompe l'oeil pins, brackets or ropes.

This method of assembling with framing devices, playful as it was, was mindful of the new theories of vision which addressed the disjuncture between the object in the tangible world and the subject in the mental world of the perceiver. Various philosophers on art have considered the frame as that which links the world of the subject to that of the object, yet belongs to neither." The role the frame plays is as some kind of link between irresolvable worlds of existence. It is in this vein that Piranesi made use of the frame as a way to meld, while preserving the integrity of, different ways of considering the monument, different types of information. And of course, he added whimsy to the task by playing with the represented frame. Now he showed its edge, now he obscured it by overlapping the sheets, sometimes considerably, sometimes only marginally. In essence, he juxtaposed the sheets to engage the reader in an attempt to sort through the information, and when the feat could not be accomplished, to have him/her accept the piecemeal presentation as a totality, much like the viewer sorts through piecemeal visual information to read the world as a connected entity. This assemblage, while visually different, is in the same spirit as Bianchini's compilations of artifacts, especially those in which the joints between artifacts are depicted, in his 'complete figures."

Piranesi had certainly not originated the method of composing a page using the trompe l'oeil framing device. He had significant sources. For example, Filippo Juvarra (1678 - 1736) whom Piranesi admired, used it lavishly, especially early in his career. If not the inventor, then Juvarra was the popularizer of this means of presenting various architectural projects in the concorsi, or competition designs, of the Accademia di San Luca in Rome.' Piranesi used this device repeatedly and playfully in his archaeological illustrations.

Moreover, the frame's use in archaeological publications, or publications on monuments of the past, was established long before Piranesi. Pietro Santi Bartoli, and most blatantly, Johann Fisher von Erlach, used the trompe l'oeil framing device to present archaeological information in their Gli antichi sepolcri ovvero mausolei romani et etruschi... (1697) and Entwurff einer historischen Architektur (1721). The shared source of the trompe l'oeil device to frame both verbal and visual information was the mapping tradition.

In the cartographic tradition, a supplemental key helped to explain the base map. The key was usually represented in a separate frame, sometimes on a sheet of paper shown as adhered to the surface of the map as in Giambattista Falda's seventeenth-century "II Nuovo Teatro di Roma."" The sixteenth-century fresco map series in the Galleria delle Carte Geografiche in the Vatican displayed supplementary views in place of verbal or symbolic information in their keys.' Piranesi would have known these frescoes, and they would have supplied a precedent for the use of framed perspective views which, like information in keys, supplied further understanding of the of the image onto which it was represented as attached. Conscious of the current concern about the validity of any image to convey truthfully the world as perceived, Piranesi saw the trompe l'oeil framing device as a useful tool to enhance the image, one more means to compile a "complete figure" to convey all possible about the object illustrated.

In reaction to the stilted images in French archaeological texts, and aware of the work of such thinkers as Muratori and Bianchini regarding how various ways of representation can encapsulate and then convey a wealth of knowledge about the past, Piranesi juxtaposed different types of images, relating them playfully to one another by means of trompe l'oeil framing devices assembled in complex yet complete compositions.

From: Susan M. Dixon
Subject: C.M. on the way
Date: 1997.10.07

Dear Steve -- I just sent off the Xerox copy of the Campo Marzio -- text and illustrations, excluding the Ichnographia -- I thought you might not need it -- and that one plate by Westerhout. I didn't get time to include any note whatsoever, but I thought you could figure out what it was and who it was from.

The scale of the illustrations are a bit distorted -- a translation from the microfilm to the microfilm xerox machine to the regular Xerox machine. If you need, I'll send along the dimensions of the plates, or at least let you know which are oversized, fold-out plates.

more Campo Marzio notes
1997.10.27 (1997.11.01)

I went through the Xerox copy of the Campo Marzio text that Sue Dixon sent me, and I have come up with some further ideas/enlightenment. First of all, I found new significance in the Scenographia because if the ruins that Piranesi calls out in the aerial perspective are actual (i.e., hold veracity), then there is more evidence against the notion of absolute fabrication in terms of the reconstructed plan. The Scenograpia also depicts actual ruins collaged in the foreground and border, and I will further investigate this in terms of possibly providing more evidence toward sound archeology/reconstruction. I'm not sure how I am ultimately going to use this information, but I am certain it will be used somewhere. Perhaps I construct a small feature (web page) explaining/analyzing the plate.

Within the original text there is also a list of existing ruins from the site either in situ or in fragments. Again, this list offers the best possible source for veracity when it comes to establishing which buildings actually once existed vs. which were fabricated by Piranesi himself. I will use this list as part of the information that is presently available for each building. Furthermore, there is a "catalogo" which lists all the literary references available for the buildings that once existed within the Campo Marzio. I think it would be a wonderful project to collect the actual texts pertaining to each building, and then offer the text in conjunction with the plan of the building. This will greatly enhance the illustrated glossary, in fact, the final documents will be more like a Campo Marzio encyclopedia. I am going to start by translating (more like transcribing) the list, and at least apply that data to a web page for each list. The good thing about Piranesi's list is that it also gives me a ready made building list.

In addition to Piranesi's text, I have also done some recent reading from Krautheimer's Rome: Profile of a City, 312-1302. The first chapter in part I is pretty much the only material that relates to my Campo Marzio research, because it gives a fairly clear picture of the role of Constantine within the first Christian building projects of Rome. I am trying to determine the date in time that the Ichnographia represents. Right now the oldest building in the plan is the column of Marcus Aurelius (AD 174). I have to correct that last statement because there are buildings named for Emperor Alexander Severus (222-35). This leads to the question as to why Piranesi decided to omit (dash-in only) the Aureliam Wall. I don't have a definitive answer except to say that Piranesi took Imperial (classical) Rome to what he himself saw (imagined) as its logical conclusion. (I read in Encyclopedia Britannica that Emp. Alex. Sev. may have wanted to include Jesus as one within the Roman pantheon of Gods.) [Subsequent research has shown the tomb of Honorius to be the last building of ancient Rome to be delineated within the Ichnographia Campus Martius.]

In any case, the Campo Marzio represents Rome within the 100 years before the Emp. Constantine and the beginning of Rome's Christianization. I find it interesting that Constantine's architecture is both Christian and (Pagan) civic (Old St. Peter's Basilica vs. the Arch of Constantine and the Arch of Janus). I find it particularly interesting that Constantine should erect an Arch to a Pagen god, yet the god Janus could look in both a forward and backward direction, symbolically seeing both the past and the future, which describes exactly the situation that Constantine was in, i.e., between Rome's Pagen past and its Christian future. This is all more relevant information for my inversion theory, and in particular with regard to the Triumphal Way.

Finally, I was surprised to find references in Allen's article to the notion of inversion. I have to wonder if there was some kind of subliminal thing going on in my mind (although it is probably a year since I last read the article). In any case, I will use the reference and then expound greatly upon it because inversion will be one of my main themes.

(11.1.97) I have just discovered that the latest structures within the Ichnographia are the Arch and Porticus of Gratius, Valentinus, and Theodosius, c.390s. This is the only exception to all the buildings in the Ichnographiam being pre-Constantine. I'm not sure if this forces me to abandon the notion of trans-temporal representation, but that would not explain the omission of the Aurelian Wall and Old St. Peter's. I really don't know what to think exactly, except to say that i am not going to shy away from the information.

From: Susan M. Dixon
Subject: CM Catalogo
Date: 1997.11.02

Dear Steve -- Now you are treading on my territory! That's what my project -- once I get to it -- would do. Trace the work that Piranesi had done (both from the literary sources and from the more recent archaeological ones) to prove that he was using sound (or at least for his day) sound archaeological practices.

The translation is: Garden of Nero or of Calig. and Nero in (that's nel rather than net) the Vatican.

Seneca, On Ire or Wrath (this is probably Seneca the Younger cause he worked for Nero, and it might be a chapter in his Dialogi or Dialogues, or it might be in his imaginary letters on morals called the Epistulae Morales (124 letters).

Fil. is probably Philostrates who wrote lots of things but the reference here is to the Laws of Caligula, which I've never heard of. He lived from c. 150 to c. 240. His other works tend to be kind of irreverent, so I'm not sure that he actually is the right Fil. I'd have to do more work on that.

Eighteenth-century footnotes are not the same as twentieth-century ones, as you can see. And Piranesi sometiems throws in a more contemporary author in the footnotes, e.g., Biondi, Orsini, Vignola, Donati, and yes, even Palladio.
Good luck.

Gaius Flaminius

...researched Gaius Flaminius because Piranesi's inversion of the Circus Flaminius within the Ichnographia. It turns out that Flaminius did go against the grain of the Senate and was of plebeian background. Sue Dixon also mentioned that Piranesi uses Flaminius as a point of subdivision in his Il Campo Marzio text of the districts history, (Piranesi actually thinks highly of Flaminius and his circus), and she (Sue) noted how the via Flaminia is not correctly delineated within the Ichnographia--the circus and the road were built by the same man. Perhaps Piranesi chose to delineate both these entities incorrectly to accentuate that Flaminius, in going against the grain, began a new effect on the land use of the Campo Marzio--thus showing the circus rotated 90 degrees in order to make it stand out. As for the Via Flaminia, there is no immediate explanation as to why it meanders off into a totally wrong direction, but it is worth noting the many plebeian homes that Piranesi situates along the street; this may be a reference to Flaminius' own plebeian background.

There is also the area called Prata Flaminia (within which the Porticus Philippi is situated) and I'm not sure if Flaminius also donated this land to the city/citizens.

To: Susan M. Dixon
Subject: in the mail, etc.
Date: 1998.02.20

Hello Sue,
As promised, I have finally sent off 3 sets of photo copies:

Alan Plattus, "Passages into the City" in Ritual (Princeton Architectural Press, 1983).

Stanley Allen, "Piranesi's Campo Marzio: An Experimental Design" in Assemblege, 1989.

G. B. Piranesi "Thoughts on Architecture" in Oppositions (Spring 1984: 26).

I have made another discovery of yet another of my own mistakes regarding the Ichnographia, specifically to the area of the Bustum Hadriani. Hadrian's tomb is not in the Garden of Domitian but in the Garden of Domitia, the sister of Nero's father. Thus the twin circus to Hadrian's Circus is not the Circus of Domitian, but the Circus of Domitia, and therefore it is not a case of mislabeling and misplacement on Piranesi's part. The following is what Piranesi notes in the Catalogo of Il Campo Marzio:

Circo Apollinare di Domizia «Procopio nel lib. della guerra Gothica.» Furono dissotterrati diciotto anni fa li rovine di questo circo nel sito, ove l'abbiam delineato, ed ove son state dinotate dal Nolli nella sua pianta di Roma moderna. Di esse parla il Fulvio, ove dice: «Vi resta per anco fuori di porta Castello, in quelle vigne vicine, non lungi dalla mole Adriana una piccolo forma di un circo di pietra nera e dura quasi affatto rovinato.»

I see a reference to Nolli, the Gothic Wars, to Hadrian, and to the Castello. I think we are both interested in how this translates. I see it pretaining especially to your reconstruction paper and to the issue of Piranesi's archeology in general.

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



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