View of the Piazza and the Archbasilica of St. John Lateran in ‘Views of Rome’
Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Venice 1720 – Rome 1778)
An ideal equivalent to the view with St Peters and the Vatican, in the splendour of its urban setting. This late panel from the “Views of Rome” series, reveals the way in which the Lateran building seemed, even in the 18th century, the destination of a path that was not very frequently on the usual tourist trail, the final step in a traditional pilgrimage only followed on festive days, but mainly isolated on the margins of the Aurelian Walls. An antithesis to the monumental and modern vision of the Lateran Basilica, as offered by Piranesi on many other occasions, the view isolates the architecture - transformed by a radical urban intervention under Sixtus V - in an open space. Set out on an axis with the Scala Santa building, the perspective view is closed on the left by a backdrop of tiny buildings, reflective of the basilica’s peripheral nature before the Esquilino road was developed in post-unification Italy. The need, in terms of composition, to limit the foreground in shadow, leaves room for a rare complacency for anecdote, by setting out human figures of unusual size, such as the group of resting pilgrims, or captured with colourful wit in the bustle of different occupations, such as bowls players or young people following carriages, part of a cast of an always new human comedy.