Encyclopedia Ichnographica




The paper concludes, moreover, that the making of the Campo Marzio interpretively re-enacts the original imaginative founding of the Eternal City and, as such, constitutes an attempt to re-found Heroic Rome.
R. James Aitken, "PIRANESI - VICO - Il Campo Marzio: Foundations and the Eternal City" (McGill University: Master's Thesis, 1995.07.17)

Redrawing History - outline

Redrawing History - Piranesi's reenactment

...distinguishing reenactment from archeology.

Was Piranesi trying to recapture the ancient Roman imagination?


from: R. G. Collingwood, The Idea of History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

p. 282:
How, or on what conditions, can the historian know the past? In considering this question, the first point to notice is that the past is never a given fact which he can apprehend empirically by perception. Ex Hypothesi, the historian is not an eyewitness of the facts he desires to know. Nor does the historian fancy that he is; he knows quite well that his only possible knowledge of the past is mediate or inferential or indirect, never empirical. The second point is that this mediation cannot be effected by testimony. The historian does not know the past by simply believing a witness who saw the events in question and has left his evidence on record. That kind of mediation would give at most not knowledge but belief, and very ill-founded and improbable belief. And the historian, once more, knows very well that this is not the way in which he proceeds; he is aware that what he does to his so-called authorities is not to believe them but to criticize them. If then the historian has no direct or empirical knowledge of them, what kind of knowledge has he: in other words, what must the historian do in order that he may know them?

p. 282-3:
In a general way, the meaning of the conception is easily understood. When a man thinks historically, he has before him certain documents or relics of the past. His business is to discover what the past was which has left these relics behind it. For example, the relics are certain written words; and in that case he has to discover what the person who wrote those words meant by them. This means discovering the thought which he expressed by them. To discover what his thought was, the historian must think it again for himself.

p. 283:
Suppose, for example, he is reading the Theodosian Code, and has before him a certain edict of an emperor. Merely reading the words and being able to translate them does not amount to knowing their historical significance. In order to do that he must envision the situation with which the emperor was trying to deal, and he must envision it as that emperor envisioned it. Then he must see for himself, just as if the emperor's situation was his own, how such a situation might be dealt with; he must see the possible alternatives, and the reasons for choosing one rather than another; and thus he must go through the process which the emperor went through in deciding on this particular course. Thus he is re-enacting in his own mind the experience of the emperor; and only in so far as he does this has he any historical knowledge, as distinct from a merely philosophical knowledge, of the meaning of the edict.

p: 283: [the steps of the reŽnactment process]
Or again, suppose he is reading a passage of an ancient philosopher. Once more, he must know the language in a philosophical sense and be able to construe; but by doing that he has not yet understood the passage as an historian of philosophy must understand it. In order to do that, he must see what the philosophical problem was, of which his author is here stating his solution. He must think that problem out for himself, see what possible solutions of it might be offered, and see why this particular philosopher chose that solution instead of another. This means re-thinking for himself the thought of his author, and nothing short of that will make him the historian of that author's philosophy.

p. 283:
Such as objector might begin by saying that the whole conception is ambiguous. It implies either too little or too much. To re-enact an experience or re-think a thought, he might argue, may mean either of two things. Either it means enacting an experience or performing an act of thought resembling the first, or it means enacting an experience or performing an act of thought literally identical with the first. But no one experience can be literally identical with another, therefore presumably the relation intended is one of resemblance only. But in that case the doctrine that we know the past by re-enacting it is only a version of the familiar and discredited copy-theory of knowledge, which vainly professes to explain how a thing (in this case an experience or act of thought) is known by saying that the knower has a copy of it in his mind. And in the second place, suppose it granted that an experience could be identically repeated, the result would only be an immediate identity between the historian and the person he was trying to understand, so far as that experience was concerned. The object (in this case the past) would be simply incorporated in the subject (in this case the present, the historian's own thought); and instead of answering the question how the past is known we should be maintaining that the past is not known, but only the present. And, it may be asked, has not Croce himself admitted this with his doctrine of the contemporaneity of history?

p. 289:
We now pass to the second objection. It will be said: "Has not this argument proved too much? It has shown that an act of thought can be not only performed at an instant but sustained over a lapse of time; not only sustained, but revived; not only revived in the experience of the same mind but (on pain of solipsism) re-enacted in another's. But this does not prove the possibility of history. For that, we must be able not only to re-enact another's thought but also to know that the thought we are enacting is his. But so far as we re-enact it, it becomes our own; it is merely as our own as we perform it and are aware of it in the performance; it has become subjective, but for that very reason it has ceased to be objective; become present and ceased to be past. This indeed is just what Oakeshott has explicitly maintained in his doctrine that the historian only arranges sub specie praeteritorum what is in reality his own present experience, and what Croce in effect admits when he says that all history is contemporary history.

p. 300:
To disengage ourselves from these two complementary errors, we must attack the false dilemma from which they both spring. That dilemma rests on the disjunction that thought is either pure immediacy, in which case it is inextricably involved in the flow of consciousness, or pure mediation, in which case it is utterly detached from that flow. Actually it is both immediacy and mediation. Every act of thought, as it actually happens, happens in a context out of which it arises and in which it lives, like any other experience, as an organic part of the thinker's life. Its relations with its context are not those of an item in a collection, but those of a special function in the total activity of an organism. So far, not only is the doctrine of the so-called idealist correct, but even that of the pragmatists who have developed that side of it to an extreme. But an act of thought, in addition to actually happening, is capable of sustaining itself and being revived or repeated without loss of its identity. So far, those who have opposed the 'idealists' are in the right, when they maintain that what we think is not altered by alterations of the context in which we think it. But it cannot repeat itself in vacuo, as the disembodied ghost of a past experience. However often it happens, it must always happen in some context, and the new context must be just as appropriate to it as the old. Thus, the mere fact that someone has expressed his thoughts in writing, and that we possess his works, does not enable us to understand his thoughts. In order that we may be able to do so, we must come to the reading of them prepared with an experience sufficiently like his own to make those thoughts organic to it.

sex, Mars, reenactment

...the phrase, "back to daddy's balls, architecture halls"... ...a connection between this line and the Ichnographia. ...Mars being the father of Romulus--the founder of Rome, and the connection of sex and conception within plans... ... the "testicles" of the Templum Martis as generators...

...the prominence of Mars... ...Piranesi actively redesigned Imperial Rome as he came to understand it. Piranesi assimilated all the knowledge about this part of the city, and through that assimilation he delineated an optimal synthesis. Piranesi's plan of the Campo Marzio is not an architectural reconstruction, but an archeological redesign. Piranesi's plan is not a rendition of what was, rather a rendition of what could have been. Piranesi's plan is not a reconstruction, but an historical reenactment.

The Ichnographia is a powerful reenactment of the architectural history of the Campo Marzio. The history, moreover, is not limited to Imperial Rome. Although the buildings are named for those primarily of the late Empire, Piranesi also very cleverly and extremely subtlely reenacts the architectural history of the Campo Marzio beyond the Imperial Age, specifically the inversion/conversion of Rome from pagan state to Christian state.

The opening stage for the reenactment is the Scenographia (whose very title has obvious theatrical connotations)...

...regarding the Ichnographia as a stone fragment: a reenactment of the Forma Urbis--a virtual reenactment of discovering the great missing piece of the "puzzle" that will bring all the other piece to a grand cohesion. (...here reminded of Tafuri's opening comments to The Sphere and the Labyrinth: "There comes a moment (though not always) in research when all the pieces begin to fall into place, as in a jig-saw puzzle, where all the pieces are near at hand and only one figure can be assembled (and thus the correctness of each move be determined immediately)..."


"Modern man though regarding himself as the result of Universal History does not feel obliged to know the whole of it, the man of the archaic societies is not only obliged to remember mythological history but also to re-enact a large part of it periodically."
Mircea Eliade, Myth and Reality, trans Willard R. Trask (New York: Harper and Rowe, 1963), 13.

axes of life and death

...the Roman cardo and decumanus... ... wonder whether the life and death axes of the Campo Marzio are also a reenactment of the ancient town planning axes. Upon inspection of the Ichnographia, the life and death axes are just a few degrees shy of corresponding with the cardinal points. Moreover, the cardo, the north-south axis corresponds to the axis of death in the Ichnographia, and traditionally "refers to the axis around which the universe rotates." The Campo Marzio axis of life, the east-west axis, the decumanus, refers to the rising and setting of the sun.

...the Arch of Theodosius et al is placed at the tip of the axis of death. In its smallness (and apparent insignificance) it reminds of the tiny unnamed intercourse buildingat the tip of the axis of life. What is of utmost significance, however, is that this particular Triumphal Arch is indeed one of the very latest building additions rendered within the Ichnographia, and dates from anywhere between AD 367-395.

The placement of this arch at the tip of the axis of death is symbolic in that it represents the very end--Theodosius was the last Emperor to rule over both the East and West Empire, and it was he who instituted Christianity as the state religion--the end of the pagan empire and the end of any semblance of a totally unified empire. Thus, the intercourse building at the tip of the axis of life represents the very beginning (of life and quite possibly of the Ichnographia's plan formations, as well) and the Arch of Theodosius et al at the tip of the axis of death represents not only Rome's end as the sole capital of the civilized world, but also its end as capital of the pagan world.

It is through his plan of the city of Rome that Piranesi writes (and/or rights) the history of Rome itself. Through the Ichnographia Piranesi reenacts the history of the city.

...the Ichnographia represents Rome at its pagan zenith...

Points of Departure

I have decided to put together a critical essay regarding my interpretations and disputations of the contemporary existing texts on the Ichnographia. It will be called "Points of Departure"...

...this combined presentation technique may also follow Piranesi's methodology, thus offering the possibility of a further "re-enactment".

In thinking of the typologies... ...regard to Tafuri's comments of the Ichnographia being a sample book and something unknowable. ...the [scale] comparison between St. Peter's and the Bustum Hadriani is a perfect place to start, although I could also compare the Ichnographia plans to other ancient Roman plans, particularly the large baths. Such drawings would refute Tafuri's and Bloomer's statements regarding the smallness (and seemingly insignificantly treated Pantheon and tomb of Hadrian).

...Piranesi's cribbing of the Porticus Aemilia for the Septa Julia may actually represent Piranesi's scale for the entire Ichnographia. It could be that Piranesi very purposefully installed the Forma Urbis fragment of the Porticus Aemilia into the Ichnographia for the precise purpose of demonstrating more of the actual scale (and gigantism) of ancient Rome (--it is as if Piranesi is here illustrating his own quote about how one just has to look around at Rome and Hadrian's Villa to see the examples he emulates.) Piranesi was not being deceptive or misleading, nor was he acting out of ignorance of the fragment's true identity. Piranesi used the Porticus Aemilia as evidence and example.

life, death, and the triumphal way [inversion]

I spoke with Sue Dixon yesterday and told her of my latest "discoveries" regarding the life and death axes of the Ichnographia, the arch of Theodosius et al and the further symbolism of the Porticus Neronianae as an inverted basilica-cross. She too became excited by my discoveries and then also brought further insight, especially in reference to the issue of the papacy and its research during the eighteenth century into the early Christian Church. She spoke of Bianchini and his nephew (a contemporary of Piranesi's) and their dual volumes of pagan (Roman) and Christian art, and she also mentioned how the papacy of the eighteenth century had lost (more or less by force and financial restraints) much of its political power and thus took on a very pious role--exhibiting not its worldly power but its almost mystical or spiritual power.

What I was saying about the apparent Pagan-Christian conversion-inversion narrative of the Ichnographia fit with what research Sue is continually doing regarding the contemporary and early eighteenth century influences on Piranesi and the whole issue of proto-archeology - history of the eighteenth century.

After speaking with Sue, I began thinking of the significance of the arch to the victory over Judea that is situated to the western end of the Bustum Hadriani. I now see it related to the pagan-Christian conversion-inversion of Rome, but in terms of Roman history it is a somewhat marginal issue-event. Yet, in terms of Christianity, the Roman victory over Judea, and hence the fall of Jerusalem, is a significant, albeit still sorrowful, event because of this event's relationship, and indeed verification of certain-particular passages of New Testament Scripture, i.e., Jesus' answering the Apostles question of when Jerusalem would end (which I think is in Mark or the Acts of the Apostles). Seeing how a seemingly minor event in Roman (Imperial) history can at the same time be a critical event for the foundation of Christianity made me think about how the Roman Judaic victory unwittingly gave manifest confirmation that Christianity had from that point forward absorbed Judaism.

Although it comes from the margin or edge, the significance of the victory of Judea arch sheds a major light upon the narrative Piranesi tells--Piranesi's "story" is about Christianity's similar absorption and concomitant destruction of paganism. This notion of Christianity absorbing both Judaism and paganism has major theological implications, especially with regard to a heretofore perhaps ignored importance-significance of Rome and the Roman Empire within the Canon and doctrine of the Christian (Catholic) faith.

...the real axis of St. Peter's Basilica and Square. This axis is fundamental to Piranesi' axis of life--and the most significant point alone the existing axis is the burial place of St. Peter, which, although not noted in the Ichnographia, is nonetheless an ancient Roman artifact.

...the story of the Triumphal Way. ...follow the triumphal path on the plan, and explain the entire route in Roman-pagan-triumphal ritual terms. ...bring up the essential concept of reenactment, the reenactment that Piranesi here designed, especially the well planned sequence of stadia and theaters along the way. Piranesi made use of what was actually once there.

When the route reaches the wall at the Temple of Janus, attention turns to Triumphal Arch-Gate, which is closed during the years of inactivity. Does the Triumphal Way then bounce off the wall and go back the way it came? Does the Temple of Janus allow us to go in either direction? (Other clues of inversion abound: obelisk in the Horti Salustiani, Porticus Phillippi, the Arches along the Via Lata, the Via Flaminia, the Circus Flaminia, the obelisks at Augustus's Tomb. The recurring inversion theme points to a greater meaning/symbolism.) The Temple (arch) of Janus represents the Arch of Janus built by Constantine (who might himself be called the Janus figure of Christianity) and this is the initiation of the way of Christianity's triumph: the profane to the sacred; the forest, hell, purgatory, heaven; the path of salvation through Christ and the Church.)

...the way from the profane to the sacred ends at the Area-Templum Martis as symbolic of the union of the most sacred site ancient Rome (or at least its point of origin) with the most sacred site of Christian Rome (St. Peter's place of burial) and also the point of origin of Christian Rome.

The garden of Nero is the ultimate field of inversion: Horti Neroniani to Vatican City, the garden of antichrist to the Church as the Body of Christ, the foremost seat of the Church of Christ, and finally St. Peter's inverted crucifixion begins the conversion of Rome.

I will conclude the inversion from pagan to Christian story-line by returning to the axis of death and the Arch of Theodosius et al at its tip, and thus when compared with the intercourse building we have depicted the beginning and the end of pagan Rome. To this I will add the Jewish Victory monument and end with the notion that Piranesi has here used architectural plans and urban design to tell the "history" of ancient Rome, however, one has in a sense read both the "positive" and the "negative" image-plan -- a story where the first half is the reciprocal of the second half (and vice versa). (I am oddly reminded here of the double theaters story from Circle and Oval in St. Peter's Square.)



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