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 oneriric 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 verufy our obsevations 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 doubl bend of the river, seem to be recomposed into structures in some way unitary and well defined: two orthagonal 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 mousoleum, of the Circus Agonnalis, 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 acknowledgement 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 onthe 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, multilinear 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 evifdent 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 arbitarily reduced to minor, almost unrecogizable 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 appropreiated 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 trapizoidal rooms on the traverse axis; or, finally, the group dominated by the Bustun 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 arounf the Atrium Minervae: an astonishing mechanism, in which Piranesi achieves the maximun refinement of his geometric intruments.
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 subse1quently by a parallel that Piranesi draws between two architectural "decadences"--that of the Imperial Age and that of the late baroque. He write:
What I must fear, rather, is that certain aspects of this deliniation 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 Campodoglio], 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."
introduction - personal motivation
The major part of my analysis will begin with the triumphal procession route that ends at the main Temple of Mars in the Area Martis. This Temple of Mars being the climax ot the procession leads me to believe (correctly?) that the Area Martis is the most sacred precinct of the entire Campo Marzio.
This Temple of Mars also establishes the longest axis of the Campo Marzio, running a total of x feet (x meters). This axis is not obvious primarily because the buildings disposed along it are not entirely positioned in a composition of bilateral symmetry. The lack of absolute symmetry is due to the second longest compositional axis, perpendicular the the longest axis, running through Hadrians tomb and the Bustum Hadriani.
My whole text could start with a written description (and maybe even a 3-dimensional rendition) of the whole triumphal way. The use of aerial perspectives would be unprecedented (even if they were just of the plan). I am trying to think of an interesting way to engage the reader into the real narrative of the Campo Marzio. I am thinking of describing the procession as if I were an actual eyewitness on some special occassion. Perhaps the triumphal route was used in some kind of repeated (annual, etc.) time frame. This kind of narrative will make this city plan of Piranesi's more alive.
In my introduction to the analysis, I want to speak of removing the archeological mask as well as the polemical and dialectical masks that have bee applied since Piranesi (Tafuri and Bloomer particularly), and just look at the Campo Marzio as the phenomenonal architectural creation by a single individual that it is. All the over academisized analyses cloud the real issue of how incredible it is that one person, by himself, could design and execute such an amazing plan. To anyone that loves architecture, and especially to those that really love to "read" (as well as draft) plans, the Ichnographia of Piranesi's Campo Marzio represents an architects dream almost come true, or better yet, it manifests a dream virtually come true.
After saying this I can speak of my personal motavations in studying the Campo Marzio. The Scully reference of the map hanging over Kahn's desk made me want to seek the same inspiration that Kahn sought. I can mention how my architectural education began in 1975, and how Temple University's Architectural program was rich with Kahn and Giurgola disciples. I personally wanted to learn how to manipulate geometry the way Kahn and Giugola knew how to manipulate it, and I thought learning the Campo Marzio might be a part of the learning process.
Once I learned CAD, I saw the possibility of actually redrawing the Campo Marzio, especially because of the mirror copy and rotate copy drawing commands. Although the redrawing would, nonetheless, require many hours, the final product, a CAD database, would be many many times more than just a single tracing of the original plan. Here I can go into numerous copies at a variety of scales, geometric analysis, typological analysis, and even aerial perspective views.
I can then also relate how my approach and initial motivation to study the Campo Marzio is both similar and different than J. Bloomer's. I will go so far as to say the Bloomer never really "read" the Campo Marzio, at least not beyond her one "reading" of the gate/entrance to the underworld.
I am beginning to see the possibility of presenting my analysis as a modern version of how Piranesi presented his work--i.e., the juxtaposition and overlay of a variety of graphics and texts. I want to take advantage of my own modern sensibility of layout, as well as make use of the lessons of Piranesi's presentations.
From: Jennifer Bloomer, Architecture and the text: the (s)crypts of Joyce and Piranesi (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993).
p.x: "When I was a student in Professor Segrest's urban design class in architecture, he flashed up a slide of the Campo Marzio and made remaks about the brilliance of Piranesi and his plan of Rome and then went on to something else. The jerk. I distinctly remember sitting there thinking I was the only person in the large class who didn't understand this Piranesi stuff and who didn't understand that that whatever it was about his work that was so brilliant was so self-evident that it required no professorial explanation whatsoever. As Professor Segrest now knows only too well, things stick in my craw; so I have tortured him with Piranesi for years. As this book nears completion, I consider us almost even."
p.6: "Furthermore, the texts approach each other in another way: the narrative structure of Finnegan's Wake is superimposed upon a geometric structure that resembles an architectonic, and the Piranesi etchings approach the literary in their ambiguity and invitation to a kind of narrative interpretation (a "What is going on here?")"
p.18: "The first construction (Campo Marzio) relies upon its writtenness, and is constructed as an essay that pushes, in Benjaminian fashion, the limits of the essay form."
p.36: "Benjamin's treatise is an "exasperated articulation of a theme [allegory] originally taken as an absolute," a critical experimentalism of Tafuri's type "E," the classification of "Piranesi's Iconographia Campi Martii, of many 'critical restorations' by Albini and Scarpa, of Kahn's last work." (Tafuri, Theories and History, 111).
p.43-44: "But at this point Benjamin confronts us with a challange to negotiate the clashing rocks of history and nature: "It is by virtue of a strange combination of nature and history that the allegorical mode of expression is born." (Origins, 167). And we track this treacherous itinerary aboard the[HIEROGLYPH]. For in Benjamin the hieroglyph itself marks the emblem of his allegorical journey through knowledge.
It will be important to recall at this point that the maps of Giambattista Piranesi--the drawings of Il Campo Marzio--are represented as pictures carved into ancient broken tablets of stone and are thus coded as hieroglyphic maps. Hieroglyphs, those "images of desire that are the non-stuff of which dreams are made" (Taylor, Altarity, 240), are ubiquitous in Piranesi's Vedute di Roma as well, apperaing properly--tattooed--on the shafts of obelisks."
p.67-68: "In the autumn of 1757, Giovanni Battista Piranesi completed a postscript to his previously published Antichità Romane. The six contiguous plates depict an arrangement of stone fragments on which are incised the master plan of the Campo Marzio. The fragments appear to be remains of a plan of ancient Rome, the footprints of layer upon layer of antique Roman buildings. A few diagrams leap out in familiarity: here the Pantheon, there the Theater of Marcellus, and the Piazza Navona; the Mausoleum of Hadrian (the Castello Sant' Angelo) sits in its proper place beside the Tiber, which snakes through the drawing in its "tibertine" way. Upon closer inspection, however, the reader of the drawing will find that it bears little resemblence to any factually recorded reality, either of ancient Rome or of eighteenth-century Rome, although it continues to look distinctly Roman and certainly ancient.
Or does it?"
p.70: "Piranesi looked about and found, to his horror, the impassive cage of the Cartesian-Newtonian universe descending onto his world. The Campo Marzio Ichnograpia is a product of his reaction. The drawing represents the real and the unreal, the past and the future, a place and no place. With it, Piranesi shatters history and geography, time and space. The devise is critical. It is allegorical. Piranesi's construction of architectural bits, the sediment of history, corresponds to the fractured narrative of James Joyce's Ulysses. ...
Il Campo Marzio del' Antica Roma was a polemical weapon in the eighteenth-century battle over the appropriate origin of good architecture. With the forms it represents, it names Etruria, not Greece, as the source of Roman architecture."
p.71: "The Campo Marzio Ichnographia is, in a sense, surreal. It anticipates the poem-objects of Andrè Breton, which juxtopose the real and the unreal, remembered known and imagined unknown, in an irritating, provocative manner. Like the surrealist object, the collision is born in the brain of the maker, a collision that the reader seeks and makes again; for collisions constitute the language. But, regarded again, both Piranesi and Joyce depart radically from surrealism, and their work represents in fact exactly that from which Breton and his colleagues recoiled. Although much of the communicating mechanism operates from the unconscious (in a kind of reverse automatism), a reading of the texts of Piranesi and Joyce requires associations--switching mechanisms--based upon a knowledge of the conscious, national world of ideas."
p.72: "Piranesi's drawing maps a city, both a real city (Rome) and a city located in a geography of the imagination,2 a city that represents something other. Like Freud's use of "The Eternal City" as a metaphor for the human brain, Piranesi's Rome points to the presence of (hidden, secreted, [CRYPT]ic) elements of prehistory--the primative, the mythical--in the Rome of any moment.
But Piranesi's city is not only marked; it is also marker. It marks the labyrinth of the underworld, which is the lower most layer of its palimpsest, as well as that of the overworld, the universe."
p.75: "In the geography of the imagination, the world of ideas is a labyrinth in which the imagination is a kind of reverse Ariadne's thread, by which one is lead into the labyrinth. The realnm of ideas is analogous to what for the ancients was the Aegean Sea and to what for Vico was history; a labyrinth. When that realm has been charted, however, it can no longer be represented by a labyrinth; the labyrinth must slide into another place. We can wander here; we often return to familiar points, familiar intersections, which give pleasure. This is the mythical labyrinth, which we enter and from which, we discover, we have no desire to emerge."
p.77-78: "The generating structure of the Campo Marzio, Ulysses, and Finnegan's Wake is a labyrinth, and, with its concentric walls, it resemples the concentric spheres of universe, the circles of the lower world, and the mediating microcosm, the city, which in its archtypal form--Troy or Jerich--consists of encircling walls. ... "What we see when we look at the Campo Marzio Ichnographia are representations of the vestiges of wall -- ancient city walls, walls of buildings, garden walls--the structure of the city. What we see when we look at a labyrinth are its walls. In the labyrinth, the walls are the presence, but the walls are not the substance. Only the space captured by the walls, the way, occupies the wanderer."
p.80: "Across the broken slab flows the Tiber, backbone of the city, and backbone of the drawing. It is an element represented and representing, a river and a model of narrative., looping through the fiction of space, its lace apron of tributaries and canals bound into the tapestry of the city. ... The river marks the point of transition from the world of the underworld. It is passage, both in the spatial sense of a medium of passage from one realm to another and in the temporal sense of flow. The river (of time, of history) denotes the boundry between the labyrinth of life and the labyrinth of death."
p.82: 'On the riverbank, just across the Tiber from the Mausoleum of Hadrian, there is in Piranesi's drawing a depiction of a structure enclosing a crater in the land. It is labeled Terentus occulens aram Ditis et Prooserpinae, "the Terentus covering/hiding the alter of Dis and Proserpina." The Terentus was the site of the ludi saeculares, the secular games," held approximately every hundred years. The site of the [GAME]s occludes a means of access to the dark void beneath it. This form a point of connection in "The Eternal City" to a subterranean labyrinth of which the overlying city is an iteration. The en[CRYPT]ed underworld, the world beyond the real, with its sevenfold, labyrinthine geography, is the unknown that can be reached through the known, the city labyrinth above. Piranesi's crater is a Viconian keyhole, a Freudian screen.
In his flight into the unknown of the labyrinth, Piranesi displays his terror of the all-inclusivity of the all-inclusive unknown. The Campo Marzio Ichnograpia and the Scienza Nuova cry out for a halt of the lowering of the rationalist cage. No order form the outside, no structural order, they plead, is necessary in a system that is, in a large sense, chaotic, but that has internal ordering threads.
p.84-85: "To the east of the crater in the drawing lies an enormous configuration of lines shaped like a concave lens. These denote the paths of the sun across the earth at various times of the year, forming, with the sun, a timepiece.
Piranesi's reaction of shock looks backward to prehistory in its invocation of myth and its orientation toward source and forward to modernism in its fragmentation and abstraction, and in its distant viewpoint. Like a shattered narrative, the drawing's temporal orientation is discontinuous and tends to return to familiar points by means of fragments in two ways here. The drawing both represents a shattering and operates as a shatterer, It is, like the fractured narrative of Joyce, "the future Presentation of the Past."