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NOVITATEM MEAM CONTEMNUNT EGO ILLORUM IGNAVIAM THEY DESPISE MY NOVELTY I THEIR TIMIDITY

Simonpietro Salini Tutor: Winston Hampel


NOVItatEm mEam cOntEmnUnt, EgO IllUrUm IgnaVIam (THEY DESPISE MY NOVELTY, I THEIR TIMIDITY)

Preface Following the French shelling during the siege of Rome in June 1849 A.D., through the rubble of the severely damaged attic of Santa Maria del Priorato1, was found a tin box, containing a letter of which content might offer a new perspective of Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s interventions on the church; posterity will judge: (I) Rome 1766, Only a few days separate me from the end of the construction site of Santa Maria del Priorato and I feel the desire to communicate to you, illustrious master and source of my inspiration, the events related to this work, that to date, appears to be the only project that I have ever had the possibility to design and construct. Five years ago, on a December morning of 1761, I was about to reissue the collection of etchings that are known today as the “Carceri”2. Its production marked a turbulent moment of my life, “the first idea of the Prisons came in the delirium of fever”3, I remember when, with the initial signs on the copper plates, I explored these secret hypogeums and my amazement imagining to reveal those primordial structures for the first time. Constructing these magnificient views, my surprise upon envisioning those sunken chambers threw me in a compulsive research, on one hand I was constantly articulating the “laws relative to the structure of the organism”4 and on the other hand I was obsessively pursuing the “disintegration of its single formal elements”.5 In every sign I incised, I was composing the fragments of a puzzle, yet at the same time, I was hiding the clues for solving its mystery. A desperate research that brought me to the limits of imagination, as I carried on exploring the depth of the chambers that gradually seemed magnifying before my eyes, nightmares tormented me. I dreamt of Giuseppe Vasi dismissing me from his workshop with his impending voice that kept whispering in my ear “you are too much of a painter to ever be an engraver”6 and recalling the haunting memory of the controversy with my uncle Matteo Lucchesi, the Magistrato delle Acque of Venice,7 who considered me a mad visionary. Ah visionary! I who have devoted my life on observing the structures of antiquity to the point that I could reproduce their own shadow! Yet those underground “montages” were different from the majestic “organicity of Etruscan and Roman architecture”8 that I studied for years, the more I kept articulating those structures the more I was 1 2 3 4

Barry, Fabio. “Onward Christian Soldiers.” L’Aventino Dal Rinascimento a Oggi: Arte E Architettura. 140 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 33 Quincey, Thomas De. Confessions of an English Opium-eater, and Suspiria De Profundis. 114 Tafuri, Manfredo. The Sphere and the Labyrinth: Avant-gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s. 26 5 Tafuri, Manfredo. The Sphere and the Labyrinth: Avant-gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s. 27 6 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and Luigi Ficacci. Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings. 19 7 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and Luigi Ficacci. Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings. 16 8 Tafuri, Manfredo. The Sphere and the Labyrinth: Avant-gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s. 26


(II) driven towards their fascinating ambiguity. It almost seems to me as if I was trying to invent a new logic behind those structures. A logic centered on the disintegration of the clarity behind each composition of my etchings, where I was gradually departing from a coherent reading of the spaces that seemed to transform and distort into an unsolvable puzzle. I, myself, had created a labyrinth of which I could not locate the exit. The structures that I had imagined were surrounded by a grotesque atmosphere, guided by my desire of communicating through the etchings the disorientating sense of unknown that had characterized that moment of my life. Eventually, fourteen plates had emerged from the delirious fantasies. Five years ago, on the same date9, I was completing the new edition of the Prisons in an amplified version with two additional compositions, when something extraordinarily relevant happened. I heard someone knocking on the door of my workshop in Palazzo Tomati10, just to receive few seconds later a bolla11 from a Vatican emissary. I discovered with the greatest wonder that Cardinal Giambattista Rezzonico, elected Grand Prior of the Knights of Malta was commissioning me to renew the church and the piazza, both modest and bare structures dating back to the sixteenth century circumscribed in the complex of the old Benedictine monastery.12 I recall when, going up the Aventine hill, I explored the site of my first commission. The Cardinal had briefly described the character of the space in his letter as being “modest” and he was mostly concerned about the fact that “his priory should be given a more impressive appearance”13 I remember that one of the first promising ideas for the renewal of the site came from a thought that I had recently formulated in the text “Opinion on Architecture” which consisted in bringing back the ancient grace of composing structures and ornaments so that “the eyes wont see confusion but a beautiful and pleasing arrangement of things”14 I was speculating the renewal of the piazza when I suddenly ran into one of the etched views portraying the narrative sculptural reliefs on the Column of Trajan15 which I had recently published. The site of the curch and its surroundings possessed a rich and complex history dating back to its primitive settlements of ancient Rome. And its richness I could not honour more but by celebrating it through a feast of symbols evoking the military and naval past of the order and its ancestral relevance to the grand empire. Soon, I began producing the stems and commemorative pillars that now frame the margins of the square, most of them were realized in devotion to the ecclesiastical figures of the Rezzonico family, who I respectfully addressed for the renewal of the site. The completion of the ornaments around the piazza brought me to imagine a new aspect for the bare structure of the seventeenth-century facade of the church. Cardinal Rezzonico had clearly expressed his desire for it to become a grand entrance, worthy of representing the contemporary powerful charge of the order within the Vatican. Specifically from the idea of grandeur, my mind began to wander through the monumental and eccentric views that for years populated my publications “Capricci”, I was sure that one day those fantastical combinations, that I had so meticulously produced, could become means to explore a novel way of thinking about architectural composition. Just as demonstrates your ability “to encompass 9

Piranesi published a new edition of the Carceri d’Invenzione in 1761. Within the letter it is speculated that the dates coincide with each other. 10 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. 38 11 sealed letter from the vatican 12 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. 93 13 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. 93 14 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 113 15 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 113


(III) historical transcience in your project of emulation”16 in the innovative aspects of the Redentore Church, the study of antiquity must open possibilities to innovate, to make a use of the inventions of our predecessors; it should not be limited to a mere repetition of the past otherwise “what would architecture then become? A low trade, in which one would do nothing but copy, a gentleman said.”17 Firmly believing in this logic, I decided to intervene on the facade using a variety of architectural elements that could take form into a rich composition and to extend the use of the narrative ornaments, previously operated over the surfaces inside the square. I was precisely midway from completing my first built realization when I soon realized that the informative ornamental nature of my first interventions was similar, if not exactly identical, to the nature of my frontispieces, two dimensional etchings depicting elements that used to introduce the thematic contained inside the work. And these details transported on the surfaces of the site and “seen under a strongly oblique light” recreated “the effect of a crisply etched plate with its intense concentration of detail offset by unrelieved areas of brilliant highlights and deep shadow” After the façade had been completed, I was working on the drawings for the interior the church. I speculated on continuing the rhetoric dimension that I pursued through the use of the ornaments on the exterior in the interior. At the same time I imagined decorations that could disintegrate their pictorial appearance and detach from the surfaces of the structure to become form. My desire was to go beyond the image of an icon, I believe that the ornament could become a mean of enriching architectural attributes and their base structure, almost as a well proportioned sculpture does sitting in a niche18, and giving back to the architect “the crazy liberty of following his own caprice”19 through the freedom of using elements with a vitality and movement similar to the inventions of Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Borromini. In truth, I had already met this way of conceiving the ornament in its maximum expression of freedom del Laterano, where concurrently to the renewal of Santa Maria del Priorato, I received a new commission by Cardinal Rezzonico “to design an imposing tribune, complete with an elaborate papal altar”20In his work I identified my role as an architect as well as my ambitions, his eclectic historical research and his ability to use ornaments idiosyncratically, where the extravagant composition of various shapes had given a new character to the Basilica, an unusual and ingenious aspect that fascinated me. Following the commission, I departed from the Aventine Hill to immerse myself in the development of the works in the interior of the Laterano, The use of stucco in its extremely expressive quality inside the Basilica inspired me beyond any formal convention21, it was the opportunity to collect the experimental combinations of the Capricci and to imagine innovative forms that would continue the new decorative language initiated by Borromini. After one year circa, I had produced a vast amount of designs, which eventually took shape in “a set of twenty three highly finished presentation drawings”22. The proposals were the result of a variety of experiments in which I presented a new concept of artistic expression. I proposed an evolution of emulating the archaeological research and study of antiquity through the use and fusion of forms and elements from different contexts translated into a language rich of idiosyncratic forms. I must confess you that throughout my entire work, even 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

Cooper, Tracy Elizabeth., and Andrea Palladio. Palladio’s Venice. 229 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 112 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 112 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 104 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 35 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 35 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 35


(VI) between the most famous and successful, the ideas formulated inside the Laterano, were the most important. They were the tangible proof, that my visions could represent a new step in the evolution of architecture and I, myself, felt one step away from reclaiming my role and identity as an architect. After three laborious years spent on these schemes, I presented them to the commission of Cardinal Rezzonico. I could have never dared to imagine, Maestro Andrea, a benevolent figure like him, that during those five years had been my patron and the only one to believe in the potentials of my work, would be capable of betraying me. A few days after the schemes for the Lateran were presented, a series of rumors began to circulate among the intellectuals circles in Rome, about historians and theorists who blindly adopted the thinking of the barbarous school of thought dictated by Mr. Winckelmann, defending the superiority of Greek heredity against Roman architecture. It arose a testimony of a polemical letter signed by Luigi Vanvitelli where he wrote: “It is really amazing that the lunatic Piranesi dares to become an architect, I can only say that it is not an occupation for madmen”23Shortly after another letter was published by the collector and connoisseur Pierre-Jean Mariette who publicly denounced my work by writing: “nothing is produced that is not laden with superfluous and gratuitous ornament. All is sacrificed to luxury and the result is a manner that rapidly becomes ridiculous and barbaric.”24 They, arrogant theorists, “who impose rules on architecture that it has never possessed”25, to defend their absurd position are all condemned to live in the monotony of buildings that are always the same, buildings that people “would detest just as much”26. Few months later, I received a letter from Cardinal Rezzonico, informing me his decision to abandon the schemes inside the Laterano, dismissing my entire works with a brief justification related to the lack of finances to be able to finalize the plans.27 Wrath was aroused within me, I had been betrayed by my patron again, one of these figures of the aristocracy, who present themselves using the solemnity of their charges and the nobility of their ancestors to delude me. Those, who in truth, are nothing else but masks acting in a theater of power, behind which lurk ignoble figures, capable of deriding my self and destroying my profound dreams.28 In 1756, exactly 10 years ago, “after eight years of careful study [...] and countless hours spent drawing and engraving 250 plates for the Antichita’ Romane”29 James Caulfield, Earl of Charlemont, the same character who had before expressed his desire to be patron of my work and commissioned a dedication to be printed in the frontispiece of the first volume, had abandoned his promise in the middle of the production.30 At that time, I had just revealed him my ambition to expand the publication with other volumes, which would have glorified even more his reputation as patron the arts throughout Europe, when he, not only avoided a payment of the paltry sum of 200 scudi, but as I encountered that vulgar agent of Milord Charlemont in Rome, of whom I dare not even mentioning the name, I was told that the Earl “did not even open the Opera”31 And as a result of that event, following an impetus of fury, that I consider even greater 23 24 25 26 27 28

Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 37 Pierre-Jean Mariette, “Lettre” (note 64), 239 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 104 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 107 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 35 Through his work, Piranesi was seeking a secularization of the profession of the architect, where decisions would be made in complete freedom of design as expressed by him in the Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette 29 “Engraved in Porphyry, Printed on Paper: Piranesi and Lord Charlemont.” Web. 30 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 10 31 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista. Lettere Di Giustificazione Scritte a Milord Charlemont E a Lui Agenti Di


(V) than the indignation that I suffered ten years later with the Cardinal’s response, “I was provoked to an action which was violent but nevertheless appropriate within the spirit of my publication. After the sale of forty copies of the work, the original dedicatory frontispiece to Volume I was suppressed.” 32 I reached the plate of his dedication and destroyed his name from the epigraph engraved on the marble slab and gradually erased all traces of his name from every plate contained in the publication. This nobleman, who boasted his prestige and his ancestors, had also the courage to flee the city, entrusting all his affairs to his malicious agent that I know was responsible for manipulating my letters to the Earl and leaving debts behind, as I heard from the many “offensive voices” that were circulating in Rome which talked about “the reward revoked to the Master of language; and the woman keeper of his underwear to whom Your Grace had promised some recompense.”33 Cowardly traitor! I, myself, who had been preoccupied in granting his name immortality through a magnificent publication that “I believe that will pass on to posterity, this is not the kind that remains buried in the crowded shelves of libraries.” It was not a simple antiquarian treatise, it was a work that would “endure so long as there are men curious to know the ruins which remain of the most famous city of the universe”34 and to preserve the honor of my work and my reputation, it was essential to erase the name of the “unworthy patron” and dedicate the work to Utilitati Publicae.35 In my furious reaction, not only had I kept my word to “vindicate the traces of the eternal city from the rubble and the injuries of time”36 as the new inscription published on the frontispecie says, but I had resorted to a repair to my name because “as a nobleman must consider his ancestors, an artist who will leave his name posterity must consider his own reputation and think of his descendants. A nobleman is the latest of his name, an artist the first of his.”37 As in the case of the Earl, ten years later, I had been deceived by the same figure to whom few years earlier, I had dedicated, with triumphs of stems and commemorative ornaments, the facade and the piazza of Santa Maria del Priorato, I consecrated the church itself to the memorable past of the traitor who had welcomed the envious’ criticism, denying my name and rejecting my work. These thoughts filled me with shame and anger, I spent sleepless nights where, invoking the name of Caracalla38, I hoped to find the courage to use “hammer and chisel”39 on the Aventine and forever erase his memory and “his heraldic achievements” from the Church. Is this maybe the miserable destiny I am condemned to face Maestro Andrea? Living in the thirst for anger and revenge to fight for my ideas and defend my honor from the voices that judge me as a madman, to then finally devote the only built work of my life in the name of one of these hypocrites? Why do I have to suffer calumny and ingiuria40 for my desire to innovate and not to reduce art to a mere monotonous gesture? All those years spent fighting for myself have consumed me, every time I had proposed through my work, to convince the contemporary Rome, that continued “to fall short of its grand past and suffocate the remains of that past in amorphous 32 33

Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. 63 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista. Lettere Di Giustificazione Scritte a Milord Charlemont E a Lui Agenti Di Roma. XII 34 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 10 35 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. 63 36 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. 64 37 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. 63 38 Piranesi was inspired by Caracalla’s erasure of his murdered brother’s inscription from the Arch of Septimius Severus 39 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. 63 40 Ingiuria was considered a crime in the ancient Roman law and consisted in defamation of someone


(VI) decay”41, that the future could have been glorious, but no one had listened to me and in the end I had been betrayed by those few who believed in my work. I was finalizing the construction of Santa Maria del Priorato, I had just finished completing the front of the altarpiece and was about to adorn the rear when I casually encountered one of your drawings that “I kept before me at all times.”42 It was a reproduction of the drawing depicting the proscenium43 of the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza. I had always been captured by the magnificent façade of the theater, yet observing it after a long time I could see an aspect that I had never recognized before, a brilliant idea that could have induced me to reconcile with my built creation that I considered stained in shame. It was precisely the idea of illusion that represented the facade, an illusion that was playing on “this central and essential question of the relation of actors to spectators”44 where the role of the protagonist was given to architecture. I began to see the action of deluding the space to the spectators as a powerful medium that could have redeemed my position as simple executor of the Church, to feel as its own author; and this gesture that I found in your façade reminded me of the illusion of disintegrating the spaces of the Carceri where the viewer “realized that the sought for adventure, must be limitless, [...] and that one can not return from it.”45 Suddenly silence descended behind the altar, I abruptly interrupted the friezes and decorations, and at the same time my drawings came to an end. It was the void, the second face of Santa Maria del Priorato, its true essence hidden behind the image of a facade that celebrated the glories of those characters who had always ignored the existence of a depth beyond the aspect of my work, and that had forced me to resign my ideas. And these limitations that they had imposed on me where finally leading to a form, behind the interruption of the ornament, where “the silence of architecture, the reduction to zero to its symbolic and communicative attributes was the inevitable consequence of the constraints to variation”46 Here I have to conclude my accounts; I feel tired, just a few days from the end of the Church and after all the anguish of its related events, the illness that tormented me for years has come back stronger, making me almost unable to stay at my desk and work on my etchings. I entrusted the task of leading my business to “my twenty-year old son”, Francesco, and “others members of the family.”47 In my troubled sleep I can still see the image of the church under the “strong oblique light”48 and the ornaments that gradually fade off its surface as signs on a page, that mystical place where I buried my ideals, my ambitions, my work and who knows if one day, I will find rest with my body.

41 42 43 44 45

Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and Luigi Ficacci. Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings. 37 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette. 3 The stage of an ancient theatre Licisco Magagnato: Il Teatro Olimpico. 212 Tafuri, Manfredo. The Sphere and the Labyrinth: Avant-gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s. 41 46 Tafuri, Manfredo. The Sphere and the Labyrinth: Avant-gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s. 49 47 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. 119 48 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. 96


Bibliography Bevilacqua, Mario, and Daniela Gallavotti Cavallero. L’Aventino Dal Rinascimento a Oggi: Arte E Architettura. Roma: Artemide, 2010. Print. Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette: With Opinions on Architecture, and a Preface to a New Treatise on the Introduction and Progress of the Fine Arts in Europe in Ancient times. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Research Institute, 2002. Print. Quincey, Thomas De. Confessions of an English Opium-eater, and Suspiria De Profundis. Boston: Ticknor, Reed, and Fields, 1850. Print. Tafuri, Manfredo. The Sphere and the Labyrinth: Avant-gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1987. Print. Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and Luigi Ficacci. Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings = Gesamtkatalog Der Kupferstiche = Catalogue Raisonné Des Eaux-fortes. Köln: Taschen, 2000. Print. Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978. Print. Cooper, Tracy Elizabeth., and Andrea Palladio. Palladio’s Venice: Architecture and Society in a Renaissance Republic. New Haven: Yale UP, 2005. Print. Piranesi, Giambattista, Jean-Philippe Mariette, and Pierre-Jean Mariette. Osservazioni Di Gio. Battista Piranesi Sopra La Lettre De M. Mariette Aux Auteurs De La Gazette Littéraire De L’Europe, Inserita Nell Supplemento Dell’istessa Gazzetta Stampata Dimanche 4 Novembre 1764 E Parere Su L’architettura Con Una Prefazione Ad Un Nuovo Trattato Della Introduzione E Del Progresso Delle Belle Arti in Europa Ne’tempi Antichi. Roma: n.p., 1765. Print. “Engraved in Porphyry, Printed on Paper: Piranesi and Lord Charlemont.” Engraved in Porphyry, Printed on Paper: Piranesi and Lord Charlemont. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Lettere Di Giustificazione Scrittea Milord Charlemont E À Di LVI. Agenti Di Roma. In Roma: Publisher Not Identified, 1757. Print. Puppi, Lionello, M. Elisa. Avagnina, Tancredi Carunchio, and Stefano Mazzoni. Licisco Magagnato: Il Teatro Olimpico. Milano: Electa, 1992. Print. Piranesi, Giovanni Battista. The Prisons (Le Carceri); the Complete First and Second States. New York: Dover Publications, 1973. Print.


Appendix

1.1 Tavola XIV Carcere, with a staircase ascending on the left 1.2 Portrait of Cardinal Rezzonico

1.5 S.Maria del Priorato, facade 1.4 Transverse section of St John Lateran

1.6 View of Borromini’s nave of the Lateran 1.5 Trajan column


1.7 Piazza dei Cavalieri dell’Ordine di Malta 1.8 Portrait of the Earl of Charlemont

1.9 New frontispiece of the Antichita

1.10 Frontispiece of the letters to Charlemont

1.11 Portrait of Pierre Jean Mariette

1.12 Proscenium of Teatro Olimpico

1.13 The interruption behind the altar


List of Figures 1.1 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista. The Prisons (Le Carceri); the Complete First and Second States. New York: Dover Publications, 1973. Print. N.p 1.2 “Engraved in Porphyry, Printed on Paper: Piranesi and Lord Charlemont.” Engraved in Porphyry, Printed on Paper: Piranesi and Lord Charlemont. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 1.3 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978. Print. 1.4 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978. Print. 1.5 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, and John Wilton-Ely. Observations on the Letter of Monsieur Mariette: With Opinions on Architecture, and a Preface to a New Treatise on the Introduction and Progress of the Fine Arts in Europe in Ancient times. Los Angeles, CA: Getty Research Institute, 2002. Print. 1.6 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978. Print. 1.7 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978. Print. 1.8 “Engraved in Porphyry, Printed on Paper: Piranesi and Lord Charlemont.” Engraved in Porphyry, Printed on Paper: Piranesi and Lord Charlemont. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 1.9 Wilton-Ely, John. The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. London: Thames and Hudson, 1978. Print. 1.10 Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, Giovanni Battista Piranesi, and Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Lettere Di Giustificazione Scrittea Milord Charlemont E À Di LVI. Agenti Di Roma. In Roma: Publisher Not Identified, 1757. Print. 1.11 “Engraved in Porphyry, Printed on Paper: Piranesi and Lord Charlemont.” Engraved in Porphyry, Printed on Paper: Piranesi and Lord Charlemont. N.p., n.d. Web. 19 Mar. 2015. 1.12 Puppi, Lionello, M. Elisa. Avagnina, Tancredi Carunchio, and Stefano Mazzoni. Licisco Magagnato: Il Teatro Olimpico. Milano: Electa, 1992. Print. 1.13 Tafuri, Manfredo. The Sphere and the Labyrinth: Avant-gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s. Cambridge, MA: MIT, 1987. Print.


The Manuscript

Novitatem meam contemnunt, ego illorum ignaviam In seguito al bombardamento causato dal cannone francese durante l’assedio di roma nell anno del signore 1849, tra le macerie dell attico della Chiesa di Santa Maria del Priorato e’ stata rinvenuta una scatola di latta, con all’interno una lettera che forse potra’ cambiare la visione di alcuni fatti accaduti nella storia, ai posteri l’ardua sentenza: Roma 1766 Caro Andrea, Sono rimasti solo pochi giorni, ormai, dal termine del cantiere di S.Maria del Priorato e sento il desiderio di comunicare a te, illustre maestro e fonte della mia ispirazione, le vicende legate a questa opera che ad oggi, risulta essere l unica struttura che io abbia mai avuto l’onore di realizzare. Cinque anni fa, in una fredda mattina di dicembre, stavo completando la raccolta dei disegni che sono oggi conosciuti come le Carceri. La produzione di quella raccolta ha determinato un periodo tormentato, ricordo agli inizi quando disegnando, discesi per la prima volta nelle profondita’ di Roma e lo stupore nello scoprire quelle meravigliose strutture primordiali, nascoste dalla luce del giorno e rimaste intatte nel tempo. Con lo sviluppo delle incisioni il mio stupore nell’entrare in quegli abissi presto si trasformo’ in una incessante ricerca della coerenza strutturale che ero sicuro si celasse dietro quegli spazi disarticolati e quei panorami ambigui , in ogni mio segno cercavo di riconnettere i frammenti di un puzzle, la chiave per risolvere il mistero. Un angosciosa ricerca dalla quale fu impossibile staccarmi, e mentre gli spazi a poco a poco si disintegravano davanti ai miei occhi, fui cacciato negli incubi piu’ profondi, la voci incombente di Vasi che mi sussurrava nell orecchio “you are too much of a painter to ever be an engraver” e ancor prima la controversia con mio zio Matteo Lucchesi, l’ingegnere, che mi considerava un pazzo visionario. Ah visionario! Io che ho dedicato la mia vita a studiare le strutture dell antichita’ e a conoscerle fino al punto da poter riprodurre la loro stessa ombra. Eppure quei paesaggi sotteranei erano diversi dalla familiare “austerity and organicity of Etruscan and Roman architecture” . Il terrore di non poter riuscire a compiere la mia opera mi portarono ai limiti della ragione: nascondevo le volte dietro colonne di fumo, disegnavo camere di tortura dove sentivo le grida e lamenti dei dannati. Alla fine, esausto dalla follia e dai deliri febbrili erano emerse le 16 tavole che costituiscono la raccolta delle carceri, con la pubblicazione mi rassegnai con l’idea che in fondo se io stesso non ero capace di capire quelle incisioni, potevo essere certo che nessun osservatore, neanche il piu’ astuto, mai avrebbe potuto osservare le carceri con la stessa chiarezza di una veduta. Questo aneddoto mi porta indietro al inizio della mia lettera e alla fredda mattina di dicembre. Quel di, mi vennero a bussare alla porta del mio studio di Via del Corso, ricevetti una lettera da un emissario del Vaticano e aprendola scoprii con grande stupore, il nome del Cardinal Giambattista Rezzonico, cavaliere dell’ordine di Malta. di rinnovare la chiesa e la piazza appartenenti al vecchio complesso del monastero benedettino, entrambi strutture modeste e fatiscenti risalenti al sedicesimo secolo. Ricordo quando salendo il colle Aventino giunsi sul sito dove sorgeva la chiesa. Il cardinale aveva descritto brevemente la struttura definendola “modesta” e preoccupato che “il suo priorato dovesse avere un aspetto nuovo e sorprendente” Iniziai a pensare a rinnovare il luogo partendo da un idea che stavo sviluppando nella mia ricerca “parere sull architettura” che consisteva nel riprendere


modo che “the eyes wont see confusion but a beautiful and pleasing arrangement of things” Osservai i narrative sculptural reliefs della Colonna di Trajano che avevo di recente pubblicato, e presi a disegnare simboli che celebravano il passato militare e navale dell ordine e il significato ancestrale del luogo nell antica roma. Realizzai delle steli e dei pilastri commemorativi ai margini della piazza, la maggior parte dei quali devoti a trasmettere l’identita’ del luogo e a onorificare il nome della famiglia Rezzonico, per la rinnovazione del sito. Il compimento della piazza mi porto’ a pensare ad un nuovo aspetto per la nuda facciata seicentesca della chiesa, il cardinale Rezzonico aveva espresso il desiderio che diventasse un entrata grandiosa, degna di rappresentare l’ordine nel suo ruolo importante all’interno del Vaticano. La mia mente prese a vagare tra le vedute grandiose che per anni avevo immaginato nei miei capricci, Ero sicuro che un giorno quelle innumerevoli immagini che avevo cosi’ meticolosamente prodotto, potessero divenire mezzi per immaginare un nuovo modo di concepire l’architettura. Proprio come dimostra la tua abilita’ “to encompass historical transcience in your project of emulation” nella chiesa del Redentore, caro Andrea, lo studio dell’antichita’ deve aprire le possibilita’ di innovare, di fare buon uso delle scoperte dei nostri grandi predecessori e non deve limitarsi alla mera ripetizione del passato altrimenti what would architecture then become? A low trade, in which one would do nothing but copy, a gentleman said.” Seguendo questa logica, decisi di utilizzare un vocabolario di diversi elementi architettonici e di estendere l’uso degli ornamenti sulla facciata, riprendevano le tematiche che avevo introdotto all’interno della piazza. Raccoglievo frammenti di storia e li ricomponevo sulla facciata della chiesa. Dopo pochi mesi ero esattamente a meta’ dal completare la mia prima opera di costruzione, Guardai indietro al mio primo primo intervento, avevo trattato la piazza e maggiormente la facciata come pagine su cui glorificare il carattere del luogo attraverso ornamenti privi di spessore. E proprio questi dettagli “seen under a strongly oblique light” ricreavano “the effect of a crisply etched plate with its intense concentration of detail offset by unrelieved areas of brilliant highlights and deep shadow” Nel mio primo tentativo di ricreare una forma avevo trovato l’essenza di un incisione, una coreografia di frammenti che rappresentavano la reclamata identita’ di Santa Maria del Priorato. Passai a dover pensare all’interno della chiesa, decisi di estendere la dimensione retorica che avevo raggiunto attraverso l’uso degli ornamenti all esterno. Allo stesso tempo volevo che le decorazioni a “staccarsi” da quelle superfici e prendere forma, provavo il desiderio di andare oltre al segno di un icona su una parete, sentivo che l’ornamento poteva variare il suo significato e diventare un entita’ separata dagli attributi architettonici, quasi scultorea, in grado di unirsi alle forme architettoniche in una vitalita’ e movimento che avrebbe ricreato un effetto scenografico. Avevo gia’ incontrato questo modo di concepire l’ornamento nel massimo della sua espressione e plasticita’ in varie chiese del Borromini, specialmente nelle sue decorazioni all interno della Basilica di San Giovanni in Laterano, dove contemporaneamente ai lavori di Santa Maria del Priorato, avevo ottenuto una nuova commissione dal Cardinal Rezzonico “to design an imposing tribune, complete with an elaborate papal altar” Nella sua opera rivedevo me e le mie ambizioni, la sua ricerca storica e la sua estrema abilita’ nell’utilizzare ornamenti di varie forme ingeniose avevano dato una nuovo carattere alla Basilica, un aspetto inusuale e stravagante che mi affascinava. Per un breve periodo mi allontanai dal colle Aventino per immergermi nello sviluppo dell opera all’interno del Laterano, lo stucco del Borromini e la sua qualita’ estremamente espressiva e artistica mi spingevano oltre ogni convenzione formale, era l’opportunita’ di riprendere la qualita’ sperimentale dei Capricci e di immaginare delle forme innovative che avrebbero continuato il nuovo linguaggio decorativo iniziato da Borromini. Produssi una vasta quantita’ di disegni, che alla fine presero forma in “a set of twenty three highly finished presentation drawings”. I disegni erano il frutto di innumerevoli esperimenti nei quali presentavo una nuova concezione dell’espressione artistica dove proponevo un evoluzione dell emulazione all architettura del passato attraverso l’uso e la fusione di forme e


elementi di epoche diverse tradotte in un linguaggio ricco di forme idiosincratiche. Ti confesso che tra ogni mia opera, pure quella piu’ famosa e di successo, questi disegni erano per me tra I piu’ importanti. Essi non rappresentavano solo il frutto della mia straordinaria capacita’ nel riprodurre un immagine suggestiva, sentivo che attraverso quelle opera le mie idee potessero prendere forma e concretizzarsi. Erano la prova tangibile che le mie visioni potessero rappresentare un nuovo passo nell’evoluzione dell architettura ed io stesso mi sentivo ad un passo nel rivoluzionare il mio ruolo e identita’ come architetto. Dopo aver trascorso tre anni a lavorare per questi schemi e ansioso di realizzarli , presentai I lavori al Cardinal Rezzonico. Mai avrei potuto immaginare, Andrea, che una figura talmente benevola, che nel corso di quei cinque anni aveva creduto in me e nel mio lavoro dandomi l’opportunita’ di evolvermi con un nuovo linguaggio, mi avesse potuto voltare le spallle. Ebbene a pochi giorni dalla mia presentazione dei disegni per il Laterano iniziarono a girare le voci di storici e teorici che seguivano il pensiero della scuola germanica dettata dal signor Winckelmann difendendo la superiorita’ dell’eredita’ Greca. Venne alla luce una testimonianza di una lettera firmata da Luigi Vanvitelli dove scriveva : “It is really amazing that the lunatic Piranesi dares to become an architect, I can only say that it is not an occupation for madmen” Poco tempo dopo venne pubblicata una lettera del French collector and connoisseur Pierre-Jean Mariette che denunciava pubblicamente il mio lavoro scrivendo:” nothing is produced that is not laden with superfluous and gratuitous ornament. All is sacrificed to luxury and the result is a manner that rapidly becomes ridiculous and barbaric.” Loro, i teorici, they “who impose on architecture rules that it has never possessed” per difendere la loro assurda posizione sono tutti condannati a vivere nella monotonia di buildings che sono sempre uguali, buildings che le persone “would detest just as much”. Dopo pochi mesi ricevetti la lettera del Cardinale Rezzonico che mi comunicava la sua decisione di abbandonare gli schemi con una breve giustificazione legata alla mancanza di finanze per poter realizzare l’opera. L’ira si scateno’ in me, ancora una volta ero stato tradito da uno di questi personaggi importanti dell’aristocrazia, che si presentano a me illudendomi con la solennita’ delle loro cariche e dei loro antenati. Coloro che in verita’ non sono altro che maschere in un teatro di potere, dietro le quali si celano persone immeritevoli, capaci di ridicolizzare me e il mio lavoro e di spezzare i miei sogni piu’ profondi. Nel 1756, esattamente 10 anni fa, “after eight years of careful study […] and countless hours spent drawing and engraving 250 plates for the Antichita’ Romane” , James Caulfield, Earl of Charlemont, la stessa persona che aveva voluto essere il patron del mio lavoro e commissionato una dedica nella frontispiece del primo volume, aveva abbandonato la sua promessa a meta’ della produzione, quando con l’ambizione di ampliare la pubblicazione con altri volumi, che avrebbero glorificato ancor piu’ la sua reputazione nella storia come patron delle arti, non solo venne a mancare il pagamento della misera somma di 200 scudi, ma quando andai da quel barbaro agente di Milord Charlemont a Roma di cui non oso neanche nominare il nome, mi fu detto che “egli stesso non aveva neanche aperto l’Opera.” E a seguito di quell evento, in un impeto di furia ancor piu’ grande dell ira che provai 10 anni dopo con il Cardinale, “fui provoked to an action which was violent but nevertheless appropriate within the spirit of my publication. After the sale of forty copies of the work, the original dedicatory frontispiece to Volume I was suppressed.” Presi in mano il piatto della dedica e distrussi il suo nome dall’epigrafe sulla lastra di marmo e gradualmente cancellai ogni traccia del suo nome da ogni pagina del lavoro. Questo nobiluomo, che vantava I suoi prestigi e I suoi antenati, aveva pure avuto il coraggio di lasciare la citta’ affidando ogni incarico al suo maligno agente che a mio parere filtrava le mie lettere e lasciava debiti, come si sentivano a Roma “le voci ingiuriose” che parlavano della “la mercede risecata al Maestro di lingua; e fin la donna custoditrice della sua biancheria a cui Vostra Grazia avea promessa una certa ricompensa.” Codardo traditore! Io stesso mi ero preoccupato di rendere il suo nome immortale attraverso una gloriosa pubblicazione che “ I believe that will pass on to posterity, this is not


the kind that remains buried in the crowded shelves of libraries.” Non si trattava di un semplice trattato di antiquariato, era un lavoro che sarebbe “endure so long as there are men curious to know the ruins which remain of the most famous city of the universe” e per salvare l’onore di questa mia opera, era mio dovere cancellare il nome dell “unworthy patron” e dedicare l’opera ad UTILITATI PUBLICAE. A nobleman is the latest of his name, an artist the first of his.” Come in quel caso, passati dieci anni, ero stato illuso dalla stessa figura a cui pochi anni prima, avevo dedicato, con trionfi di steli e ornamenti commemorativi, la facciata e la piazza di Santa Maria del Priorato, avevo consacrato la chiesa stessa al memorabile passato dell ordine del traditore che aveva accolto le critiche degli invidiosi, rinnegando il mio nome e rifiutando il mio lavoro. E’ forse questo il mio destino Andrea? Vivere nella collera e nella vendetta di lottare per le mie idee e difendere il mio onore dalle voci che mi dichiarano un pazzo, per poi finire a dedicare l’unica opera costruita nella mia vita a nome di uno di questi traditori? Perche’ Andrea, devo soffrire la menzogna e l’ingiuria per la mia insesauribile sete creativa, per la mia voglia di innovare e non di ridurre l’arte a un gesto monotono? Tutti quegli anni passati a difendermi mi avevano consumato, avevo cercato in tutti i modi attraverso il mio lavoro, di convincere una Roma che moriva lentamente sotto il peso della sua storia, che il futuro poteva essere grandioso, ma nessuno mi aveva dato ascolto e quei pochi che avevano creduto in me alla fine mi avevano ingannato. Mi trovavo alla fine del cantiere, avevo appena finito di completare il front dell’altare ed ero sul punto di adornare la parte posteriore quando ad un tratto ritrovai uno dei tuoi disegni che “I kept before me at all times” Era una riproduzione del disegno che raffigurava il proscenio del teatro Olimpico di Vicenza. Ero sempre stato catturato da quella magnifica facciata, eppure ora riguardandola dopo tanto tempo vedevo qualcosa di meravigliosamente diverso, un idea geniale che avrebbe potuto farmi riconciliare con un lavoro che ormai consideravo macchiato dall ingiuria. Era l’idea dell’illusione che rappresentava la facciata, un illusione che giocava su “this central and essential question of the relation of actors to spectators” dove l’architettura aveva la parte di protagonista. Vedevo quest azione di illudere lo spazio agli occhi degli spettatori come un mezzo potente che poteva riscattare la mia posizione di semplice esecutore della Chiesa, ad diventarne l’autore; e questo gesto mi ricordava degli spazi disintegrati delle Carceri dove lo spettatore “realize that the sought for adventure, must be limitless, […] and that one cannot return from it.” D’un tratto calo’ il silenzio dietro l’altare, decisi di interrompere i fregi e le decorazioni e allo stesso tempo smisi di disegnare. Era il vuoto, la seconda faccia di Santa Maria del Priorato, la vera essenza nascosta dietro l’immagine di una facciata che celebrava l’immagine di quei personaggi che per anni avevano ignorato l’esistenza di una profondita’ che andava ben oltre l’aspetto del mio lavoro e che mi avevano costretto a rassegnare le mie idee. E queste loro limitazioni che mi avevano imposto prendevano ora una forma nell interruzione dell’ornamento, “the silence of architecture, the reduction to zero to its symbolic and communicative attributes is the inevitable consequence of the constraints to variation” Ora, mentre ti scrivo a pochi giorni dal termine della Chiesa, mi sento stanco, il male che non mi tormentava da anni ha ricominciato a farsi sentire sempre piu’ forte, rendendomi quasi del tutto incapace di stare al laboratorio a lavorare alle mie incisioni. Ho affidato il compito di guidare lo studio a “my twenty-year old son”, Francesco, and “others members of the family” Nel sonno tormentato continuo a vedere l’immagine offuscata della chiesa e gli ornamenti che a poco a poco si cancellano dalle sue superfici, quel luogo mistico dove ho seppellito i miei ideali, le mie ambizioni, il mio lavoro e chissa’ se un giorno trovera’ riposo il mio corpo. Umilissimo, devotissimo ed Ossequiossissimo servitore G.B Piranesi

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They Despise my Novelty I Their Timidity: Simonpietro Salini  

Novitatem meam Contemnvnt Ego Illor Vm Ignaviam: In 1756, exactly 10 years ago, "after eigth years of careful study […] and countless hours...

They Despise my Novelty I Their Timidity: Simonpietro Salini  

Novitatem meam Contemnvnt Ego Illor Vm Ignaviam: In 1756, exactly 10 years ago, "after eigth years of careful study […] and countless hours...

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