View of the Flavian Amphitheater, called the Colosseum from The Views of Rome

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720-1778), 1761
Art History Department Fund

Eighteenth-century travelers on the Grand Tour returned home laden with souvenirs, especially Piranesi’s views of the monuments of Rome. Piranesi produced the series of one hundred and thirty five prints, the Vedute di Roma, over the course of thirty years, from around 1748 until his death in 1778. In this view Piranesi gives the monument its proper name, the Flavian Amphitheater. As the first member of the Flavian dynasty, Vespasian (69-79 AD) brought peace to the city after the year of chaos following Nero’s suicide that had seen three successive emperors come briefly to power and then die violently. One of his first acts was to begin construction of the amphitheater. The Colosseum (a name acquired sometime in the Middle Ages because of a giant statue known as the Colossus which stood nearby) was the largest amphitheater in the Roman world and a model for others built throughout the Empire. Completed in 80 AD by Vespasian’s son Titus (79-81), the arena was a place where emperor and citizens came together to enjoy the bloody entertainments favored by the Romans: gladiatorial combats, public executions, and wild beast hunts.

Piranesi made four vedute of the amphitheater for this series. In this, the second view, Piranesi renders a darkly bulging “closeup” of the northern outer wall in a distorted perspective that emphasizes its volume. In spite of this dramatic treatment, the structure and its details (i.e., the orders of the columns that flank the arches on each level—Tuscan, Ionic, Corinthian, with Corinthian pilasters on the very top or attic story) are clearly legible.