Circuses and carceres: an investigation into the recently revealed “first state” of Piranesi’s Ichnographiam Campi Martii Antiquae Urbis

Circuses and carceres: an investigation into the recently revealed “first state” of Piranesi’s Ichnographiam Campi Martii Antiquae Urbis

Clare Hornsby (BSR)
Clare Hornsby (BSR)

A lecture to coincide with the exhibition: Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Prints from the BSR Ashby collection.

Piranesi’s vast print production has many highlights, amongst which the Campus Martius plan, as it is often called, is one of the most famous. Its large size – nearly 1.5 metres square – and its complexity have intrigued art historians and architects ever since it was first published in 1762, yet it is often dismissed by archaeologists as fantasy and thus useless for understanding the layout of the ancient city. Studying this plan in depth over the last few years has revealed, however, many instances of Piranesi’s close following of ancient sources and engagement with contemporary antiquarian scholarship. A recently undertaken examination of the way he chose to depict the circuses that may or may not have existed in the area of Rome outside the Servian walls, has led to a remarkable discovery about the genesis of the plan. This talk, necessarily presenting “work-in-progress”, will propose a rationale for the radical changes that the artist made to the plan, which until now have escaped scholarly attention.

Clare Hornsby is an art and architectural historian. She has published on the Grand Tour, the antiquities market between Rome and London – most recently on the collections of Cardinal Alessandro Albani – and on eighteenth-century architecture.  She is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London, a member of the Centro di Studi sulla Cultura e l’Immagine di Roma and of the Scientific Committee of the Edizione Nazionale delle Opere di Giovanni Battista Piranesi.

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