Art: Vaults & Ruins

What remained of ancient Rome when young Giovanni Battista Piranesi came down from Venice in 1740, was a pretty depressing sight for a would-be architect. The Forum was a clutter of shattered columns commonly known as "Cows' Field." The once-glorious Capitol was "Goats' Hill." The arcades of,the Colosseum were smothered in weeds and shrubs, and every day a few more stones disappeared on the carts of enterprising masons.

Romans were busy converting their palazzi into flats for tourists; there were no commissions for an unfledged architetto veneziano. But if Piranesi couldn't build new.buildings, he decided, he would draw the old ones before...

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