Encyclopedia Ichnographica

Nero

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Nero


symbolism of the Porticus Neronianae
1997.12.29

...found the Porticus Neronianae to carry a significance in that it is an inverted basilica with respect to the basilica of St. Peter's, which it nearly mirrors. Its position directly behind the Area Martis (and thus also directly behind the beginning-ending of the Triumphal Way) as additionally symbolic of Nero's reputation as Antichrist.

From Encyclopedia Britannica 16-231d (Peter Astbury Brunt):
"The great fire at Rome illustrates how low his [Nero's] reputation had sunk in 64. He did what he could to relieve the homeless and initiated rebuilding on a much better plan. Yet it was believed, without warrant, that he had fired the city himself in order to indulge his aesthetic tastes in its reconstruction. Nero tried to shift the charge onto the Christians, who were commonly thought to practice all kinds of wickedness. Hitherto the government had not clearly distinguished Christians from Jews; almost by accident, Nero initiated the later policy of intermittent and half-hearted persecution and earned himself the reputation of Antichrist in the Christian tradition."




Porticus Neronianae - crucifixion of St. Peter
1998.01.08

Because of the Michelangelo painting within the Vatican's Pauline Chapel it is certain that Piranesi was aware of the St. Peter reverse (inverted) crucifixion tradition. This lead to further interpret the Porticus Neronianae on the axis of Life as not only an inversion of the basilica of St. Peter's, but, more to the point, the porticus symbolizes the inverted crucifixion of St. Peter. Furthermore, because the porticus carries Nero's name, there is also the connection of Nero as Antichrist, and thus the inversion theme intensifies. I am now thinking that this very building (the Porticus Neronianae) carries an essential meaning for the entire Ichnographia plan, for all the above reasons plus for the fact that within the porticus' plan itself there is a significant switch in the way the walls are composed--the nave of the porticus is of a traditional layout of piers, yet in the trancepts the walls take on a very unique formation that generates a distinct pattern of solid and void. This methodical shift from solid to void is in and of itself a notation (demonstration - mark) of an oscillating or perpetual inverssion process. This plan as pattern is also perhaps a proto-sign of what might be called Piranesiesque, i.e., a type of planimetrics that is original to Piranesi and perhaps a prototype of his unique planning "style," which in turn proliferates throughout the Ichnographia.




places of Nero
1998.01.15

Throughout this chapter I will call out the "presence" and significance of Nero. From the towers within his gardens (Piranesi's reference to Nero's watching the great fire of AD 60?) to the other Nero landmarks throughout the Ichnographia. Citing Suetonius as to the placing of Nero's ashes within the area of the Ichnographia's Bustum Augusti.

...read Tacitus' Annals as well. The ancient authors offer a wonderful resource with regard to who built what, and what existed when, and even who knocked down what.




Saint Peter's Basilica
1998.08.08

The Basilican Church of Saint Peter, erected by the emperor Constantine c.330, was pulled down to make way for the present cathedral.



The Basilican Church of Saint Peter was erected by the emperor Constantine c.330 over the tomb of Saint Peter, which was also near Saint Peter's site of martyrdom in the Circus of Caligula and Nero. It is one of the largest imperial buildings constructed in Rome during the late years of the Empire. As such, its plan should be represented within the Ichnographia Campus Martius, however, it is not. Instead Piranesi fills the Vatican Valley with the elaborate Garden of Nero whose placement here is archeologically correct, although Piranesi's plan of the garden is entirely his own. Hence, it is easy to surmise that Piranesi simply chose to "reconstruct" this portion of ancient Rome according to its first century condition, and such a theory is plausible except that Piranesi also chose to include the Tomb of Honorius within the Garden of Nero, a sizable structure that was actually attached to Saint Peter's Basilica. The omission of Christianity's foremost shrine from the large plan therefore heralds ambiguity.

St. Peter's was founded by Constantine primarily as a covered cemetery and funerary hall, serving mainly for burials, commemorative banquets, and the veneration of a martyr, the Apostle Saint Peter. Its floor was covered with graves; funerary banquets were customary--Saint Augustine tells of them as late as about A.D. 400; mausolea crowded around its walls, one--S. Maria della Febbre--older than the church and surviving until the eighteenth century. St. Peter's was on an imperial estate out of town: on the shoulder of the Vatican Hill where it sloped down toward the Gardens of Nero. [The basilica] was placed on a large terrace created by filling in the pagan necropolis and the small Christian cult center therein; only the upper part of the niche, Saint Peter's memorial, remained above the floor level.
Richard Krautheimer, Rome: Profile of a City, 312-1308 (Princeton: Princton University Press, 1980), pp. 26-7.

A detail area of the Horti Neroniani with the Circus of Caligula and Nero (left) and the Porticus Neronianae (right) is superimposed with the coinciding portion of Nolli Plan of Rome.


Finding the location within the Ichnographia of where the Basilica of Saint Peter's should be, begins to disclose Piranesi's intent. For example, in actuality the altar of St. Peter's Basilica sits directly above Saint Peter's tomb, which is part of row of tombs, and a superimposition of the basilica's plan and the Ichnographia plainly indicates that Piranesi places a row sepulchers precisely where they ought to be. Furthermore, the basilican plan of the Porticus Neronianae is certainly a reference to the Basilica of Saint Peter's, albeit inverted. It is as if Piranesi located St. Peter's Basilica within the Ichnographia without actually delineating it. This illusory mode of operation, moreover, infuses double meaning into the buildings of the Horti Neroniani that Piranesi does draw. It therefore becomes evident that Piranesi's rendition of the Porticus Neronianae is an imaginative reminder that not only did Saint Peter suffer and die under Nero's persecution of the Christians, but that in the end it is Saint Peter, through Christ, that ultimately triumphs. There is thus no doubt that Piranesi clearly recognized the tremendous irony whereby the most hedonistic of imperial Roman gardens ultimately became Christianity's terrestrial and spiritual center.

buildings of Alexander Severus
1998.09.21

The building projects of Alexander Severus as described within the The Scriptores Historiae Augustae.

...the Porticus Alexexandri Severi is in a totally incorrect position at the end of the Equiria, however, Piranesi may be making a suggestive link between Alexander Severus and the military. The small aedicule Isidis on the Equiria across from the Porticus may also be a reference to Alexander's devotion to his mother--Isis is the premiere mother goddess.

...the baths, aqueduct and his grove all comply correctly within the Ichnographia.

...the Domus (Palace of) Alexandri Severi is mentioned in the Historiae text, but it is not described, and my theory is that Piranesi placed Alexander's (house) Palace along the Triumphal Way (in the reverse mode) because he favored Christianity and the Golden Rule. The Domus Alexandri Severi is also exactly like the description of Elagabalus' Palace near the Porta Maggiore. Could Piranesi be weaving some complicated message which refers to both the reigns of Elagabalus and Alexander (which did follow each other, and they were cousins), where Alexander successfully undid the corruption of Elagabalus and began to turn Rome toward a more Christian and morally sound city and empire?

...not yet sure, but I think Alexander Severus' name is attached to more buildings within the Ichnographia second only to Nero.




Antoninus Elagabalus
1998.10.01

from: David Magie (translator), The Scriptores Historiae Augustae (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1980), vol. II.

p. 113: Then, when he held his first audience with the senate, he gave orders that his mother should be asked to come into the senate-chamber. On her arrival she was invited to a place on the consuls' bench and there she took part in the drafting--that is to say, she witnessed the drafting up of the senate's decree. And Elagabalus was the only one of all of the emperors under whom a woman attended the senate like a man, just as though she belonged to the senatorial order.

He also established a senaculum, or woman's senate, on the Quirinal Hill. Before his time, in fact, a congress of matrons had met here, but only on certain festivals, or whenever a matron was presented with the insignia of a "consular marriage"--bestowed by the early emperors on their kinswomen, particularly on those whose husbands were not nobles, in order that they might not lose their noble rank.

p. 149-51: He gave a naval spectacle, it is said, on the Circus-canals, which had been filled with wine, and he sprinkled the peoples cloaks with perfume made from the wild grape; also he drove a chariot drawn by four elephants on the Vatican Hill [The circus Vaticanus was constructed by Caligula at the north end of the Janiculum (the present site of the Church of St. Peter). Under Nero it was the scene of the tortures inflicted on the Christians; see Tacitus, Annals, xv.44. The context of the present passage, however, seems to indicate that it was not this circus that was the scene of Elagabalus' exploit, but the immediate vicinity, generally known as Vaticanum, where remains of tombs have been discovered; see O. Richter, Topographie d. Stadt Rom, p. 280 f.], destroying the tombs which obstructed the way, and he harnessed four camels to a chariot at a private spectacle in the circus.




Nero buildings; inbred
1999.01.10

...to both mental illness and to the genealogy of Piranesi's Ichnographia plans. ...all the plans of Nero and after are "inbred."



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