VASSI, Giuseppe. Raccolta dell più belle vedute antiche, e moderne di Roma (Rome, 1786)
PIRANESI, Giambatista. Le antichità romane (Rome, 1756)
Between 1740 and 1742 Giambattista Piranesi (1720-1778), a Venetian born architect and etcher travelled to Rome where he met Sicilian Giuseppe Vasi (1710-1782), an artist. Both Vasi and Piranesi were part of a popular movement in which the architecture of Rome was printed and mass produced for those wanting to see its most popular cultural and historic places of interest. Although Piranesi studied under Vasi their individual styles are more distinct than one might assume. Piranesi often depicts Rome in a darker and less flattering light than Vasi, whose depictions of the Colonna Trajana in particular stands in stark contrast to Piranesi’s with its cleaner shapes and a perspective that allows the subject to retain its majestic air to some extent. In the following I will compare and contrast two prints by Vasi and two prints by Piranesi of the Colosseum and the Colonna Trajana.
Comparison of Piranesi and Vasi’s Colosseum
Piranesi’s Colosseum - Veduta dell’ Anfiteatro Flavio ditto il Collosseo
Piranesi’s Colosseum occupies a greater space within the frame than Vasi’s and, combined with the close-range ground-level perspective makes the Colosseum look as though it is looming over the viewer. The absence of light adds to this effect. The image itself is a little grainy, and the lines and details, which are not finished or polished, should not be seen as representative of the actual details of the Colosseum but are there instead for effect. The people in the image are small, hunched and shadowy, and the Colosseum has not been restored using artistic license in order to improve its aesthetic value. The ruins are visible to the left of the image and across the top of the structure.
Vasi’s Colosseum - Piazza del Colosseo
Vasi’s Colosseum is smaller than Piranesi’s and to the left of the frame. It, like Piranesi’s, shows some of the more weathered parts of the Colosseum; yet unlike Piranesi, Vasi draws from a perspective further away and above ground level which gives the Colosseum a less dark and looming feel. The sunshine on the Colosseum adds to this and gives the image of the Colosseum a softer effect. Symbolically, the sunshine on the Colosseum may also relate to the idea of the Colosseum and its era being a place and/or time of glory. The image is, in general, more romantic than Piranesi’s. The presence of people and horses much grander and better defined than in the previous image not only adds to the romanticism but contributes to the view of the Colosseum, and perhaps Rome in general, that Vasi seems to try to communicate, which is one of a place which still has, in some way, some of the grandiosity that it once did.
Comparison of Vasi and Piranesi’s Colonna Trajana
Piranesi’s Colonna Trajana - Colonna Trajana
Piranesi’s image is drawn from a ground level perspective within close proximity of the surrounding rubble and ruins around the Colonna Trajana. People are shadowy and hunched, some are sitting on the rubble. The Column is not entirely visible and so the figure at the top of the Colonna Trajana has been cut off. This is interesting as Piranesi seems to have focussed on the lower part of the column and the rubble and ruins surrounding it at the cost of obscuring some of the Colonna Trajana. His depiction, therefore, can be said to be not of the Colonna Trajana itself, but of the current (at the time) state of the Colonna Trajana which one can assume Piranesi felt to be best represented by focussing his attention to the ruins and rubble towards and surrounding the base of the Colonna Trajana. This is exacerbated by the presence of a more magnificent monument which stands behind the Colonna Trajana and dwarfs it. As before, the lines and details in the image are there for effect and are not a polished representation of the subject. The image is quite dark and the sky has been drawn, perhaps deliberately, in a murky fashion.
Vasi’s Colonna Trajana - Piazza di Colonna Trajana
Vasi’s depiction of the Colonna Trajan shows no rubble or ruins. The image has been created with cleaner lines and the surrounding buildings look like solid structures and do not dwarf the Colonna Trajana in scale nor magnificence. The clouds are better defined and it is through their presence, as well as some light and shadow throughout the image, that we can detect the sun. The Colonna is drawn from above ground level and looks like an important monument at the centre of the square. The people in the square are visibly wealthy from their dress and the horses and carriages close by. Perhaps most importantly, we can see all of the Colonna Trajana, from top to bottom, unlike in Piranesi’s image
Catalogued by Cara D. Denison, Myra Nan Rosenfeld, and Stephanie Wiles, Exploring Rome: Piranesi and His Contemporaries, ( The Pierpoint Morgan Library, New York; Centre Canadian D’ Architecture/ Canadian Centre for Architecture, Montréal, 1993)
Luigi Ficacci, Piranesi, the Complete Etchings, (Taschen, 2000)
James T. Tice and James G. Harper, Guiseppe Vasi’s Rome, (University of Oregon Press, 2010)