Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 17201778)
Etching; 15 x 21 1/4 in. (38 x 54 cm) (sheet)
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1937 (22.214.171.124)
Until the construction of railways in the nineteenth century, visitors from abroad entered the city of Rome through the Piazza del Popolo. The area acquired its monumental profile under Pope Sixtus V, who oversaw the construction of twin churches opposite the gateway into the square and the placement of an Egyptian obelisk in the center. In Piranesi's view, the obelisk extends almost from top to bottom of the composition, dwarfing the spectators gesturing beneath it and the coaches that circulate nearby. Radiating into the distance are the three great avenues that lead, as Piranesi's caption reminds us, to three popular tourist destinations, namely, the Piazza di Spagna, the Palazzo di Venezia, and the Porto di Ripetta.