Tafuri, Manfredo; architectural historian and theorist; b. November 4, 1935; d. February 3, 1994.
Architecture and Utopia - Design and Capitalist Development (1976) and The Sphere and the Labyrinth - Avant-Gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s (1987) entitle the texts within which Tafuri lays out his interpretation of Piranesi's Ichnographia Campus Martius.
From Manfredo Tafuri, The Sphere and the Labyrinth - Avant-Gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1987):
p. 33-36: In the Campo Marzio (The Field of Mars) the metaphor of the machine-universe heralded in the Carceri is fully developed and articulated. To confirm Piranesi's relationship to the neomannerist style of the Roman eighteenth century, we must observe that it is here in the reconstruction of the Campo Marzio that he gives form to what in the sixteenth century, or in the era of the so-called baroque Mannerism, was still an unexpressed hypothesis, a utopia so dangerous that it could be manifested only through allusion and in structures of limited dimensions.
The dissolution of form touches urban structure in the Campo Marzio--no longer with the oneiric pretext of the Carceri. Of course, the ulterior historicist pretext remains. But, as we shall see, also in the Campo Marzio (in fact, principally in Campo Marzio) Piranesi uses that pretext as a double-edged weapon: the Auflösung [the dissolution] touches both history, inasmuch as it is a principle of value and an instrument of action, and the very concept of the city.
Compared to the Carceri, the Campo Marzio actually appears polemical and self critical. It was published in 1761-62, at the same time as Magnifcenza ed architectura de' Romani and slightly after the re-elaboration of the Invenzioni capricciose di Carceri. We have already observed how this re-elaboration marks the advent of an intense crisis of the object in the Piranesian poetics. In the Campo Marzio what is contested is the limitedness, the abstractness, the randomness of the hermetic "objects" that throng the plates of the Carceri of 1760.
[...] This makes even more significant the fact that the Carceri and the Campo Marzio unequivocably attack "language insofar as it is a mode of acting upon the world."
We must verify our observations in the very heart of the structure of the Campo Marzio. It is immediately apparent that this structure is composed of a formless heap of fragments colliding one against the other. The whole area between the Tiber, the Campidoglio, the Quirinale, and the Pincio is represented according to a method of arbitrary association (even though Piranesi accepts the suggestions of the Forma urbis), whose principles of organization exclude any organic unity. Only the area of the northeast and the southwest, included in the double bend of the river, seem to be recomposed into structures in some way unitary and well defined: two orthogonal axes, roughly parallel to the course of the river's bend, guide the composition of the Sepulchrum Hadriani [Hadrian's Tomb], of the complex formed by the two circuses of Hadrian and Domitian, which extend along the axis of the mausoleum, of the Circus Agonalis, of the Circus Flaminius, of the Templum Martis, of the Gimnasium Neronis, of the Terme [Baths] of Agrippa. A second alignment, regulated by a rectilinear axis, is found in the northeast sector.
Here we come upon a succession of groups of monuments, totally without archeological basis and characterized rather as public facilities: the Porticus amoenitati annexed to a gymnasium, the Naumachia Domitiani, a triangulation of areas of green, protected by the "statuae virorum illustrium" and connected to a natatio, it, too, triangular, open on the other side of the Pons Fabianus.
Clearly, however, the acknowledgment of these alignments serves only to heighten still further the "triumph of the fragment," which dominates the formless tangle of the spurious organisms of the Campo Marzio. Not by accident does it take on the appearance of a homogeneous magnetic field jammed with objects having nothing to do with each other. Only with extreme effort is it possible to extract from that field well defined typological structures. And even when we have established a casuistic complex of organisms based on triadic, polycentric, multilineal laws, or on virtuoso curvilinear layouts, we end up with a kind of typological negation, an "architectural banquet of nausea," a semantic void created by an excess of visual noise.
Yet it is worth noting that what is valid for the entire composition is even more valid for the individual organisms. It is evident that, in his Campo Marzio, Piranesi presents a virtual catalogue, a typological sample book of models based on an exception that very effectively gives the lie to the rule. For further verification of this, note to which the degree to which the structures of Hadrian's tomb, the Pantheon, or the Theatre of Marcellus--among the few major monumental works in Piranesi's plates having a basis in reality--are arbitrarily reduced to minor, almost unrecognizable incidents, even as they are inserted into a continuum of fragments that deprives them of any autonomy as well as of the very status of "monument." They are exceptions that do not confirm a rule, then, and that lack any hierarchical organization. All of which permits Piranesi to show, simultaneously, just how vast the fields of these exceptions can be, once a generic classical reference has been appropriated by an experimentation based on geometrical deformations having no limits. But this same exaltation of the fragment also permits him to demonstrate, conversely, the uselessness of this breathless pursuit of exceptional structures.
Note, for example, the insertion of the officinae machinarum militarium within the triangle formed by the three large piazzas joined at the Pons Fabianus. The central star, formed by the intersection of two equilateral triangles, appears to be rotated with respect to its natural lying position, so that its vertices, aligned on the cross-axis, terminate in the little side rooms flanking the large site: the whole organism seems to be a kind of clockwork mechanism, in which, however, there is an independence of the parts and a lack of interest in formal qualities.
Also structured like hermetic "machines" are the organisms of the Circus Agonalis and the group of the Templum Martis and the Gimnasium Neronis, which form a kind of enormous notched wheel having differentiated spokes; the group located at the center of the Cripta Balbi, based on the intersection of two ternary groups of circular spaces and of a central rotunda defined by several concentric orders of columns broken by trapezoidal rooms on the traverse axis; or, finally, the group dominated by the Bustum Caesaris Augusti, an imposing collection of regular and irregular geometric forms one grafted on to the other according to the law of opposition. (Attention is also called, in passing, to the appearance of two phallic-shaped planimetric organisms converging on the hexagonal atrium, which foreshadow, perhaps with no other intent than a pure ludus geometrico, the project of Ledoux's Oikema and some of Soane's typological notions.)
But it is in the Horti Luciliani that the mechanical architecture of Piranesi reaches an extreme level of abstraction. Here, a complex of structures in semicircles and in sectors of circles obeys the rule of gemmation, as they revolve around the Atrium Minervae: an astonishing mechanism, in which Piranesi achieves the maximum refinement of his geometric instruments.
p.37: The duplicity in the Campo Marzio becomes evident. The typological casuistry, at the very moment it finds itself fully liberated, demonstrates its own inability to structure an urban organism. The supremacy of pure form declares its own ineffectuality when confronted by the power of space.
One cannot exclude the possibility that Piranesi had as a second goal a criticism of the obsessive typological experimentalism of eighteen-century Europe. If this were so, the sample book contained in the planimetry of the Campo Marzio would serve as an explicit moralistic warning. Such a hypothesis can be confirmed by certain passages of Piranesi's commentary on the plates. In fact, in the dedicatory letter to Robert Adam, Piranesi hides between the lines his negative opinion of the transformations wrought on the Campo Marzio in the Imperial Age: "...when...the Empire was given to one person alone...that site was kept, no longer for the use of the military, but to introduce the populace to pleasure." It is difficult not to discern here a parallel between the ancient tyranny of one man alone and the tyranny of the ancien régime. The republican virtues appear once more as polemical models of reference. The above is confirmed subsequently by a parallel that Piranesi draws between two architectural "decadences"--that of the Imperial Age and that of the late baroque. He writes:
What I must fear, rather, is that certain aspects of this delineation of the Campo might seem inspired by pure caprice, rather than drawn from what is real; if someone compares these aspects with the ancient manner of architecture, he will see that many of them break with tradition, and resemble the usage of our own time. But whoever he is, before condemning anyone of imposture, let him observe the ancient plan of Rome mentioned above [the Forma urbis in the Campidoglio], let him observe the ancient villas of Lazio, the villa of Hadrian in Tivoli, the sepulchers, and the other buildings in Rome that remain, in particular outside of Porta Capena: he will not find more invented by the moderns, than by the ancients, in accordance with the most rigid laws of architecture."