18th Century

Arch for Constantine-Piranesi

In the View of the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum, an etching in the series, Vedute di Roma, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) combines careful architectural records of the title monuments with experiments in composition and atmosphere.

In their details, both the Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum are rendered accurately. The Arch shows careful attention to the facades, medallions, and columns that make up the monument. The Colosseum receives similar treatment, with Piranesi successfully depicting the proportions of the structure while also maintaining details such as visible stone.
In this scene, however, composition is just as important as the monuments being depicted. Viewers observe the Southwest side of the monuments from what appears to be a nearby hill. From this angle, Piranesi captures the expansive scale of both structures in the same scene.
He also creates a romantic atmosphere with additional details of light and the natural world. Conversing figures, wild foliage, and the ruins of an unnamed monument are presented in shadow to create a the foreground. The monuments, despite being in the midground and background, are illuminated in contrast to the darkness of the foreground, solidifying their role as the subjects of the etching. Piranesi uses passing sunlight and invasive foliage to romanticize the monuments, adding a sense of beauty to their decay.