Mérigot’s Ruins of Rome


It may have been a thankless task for an artist of the 18th century attempting to compete with Piranesi’s matchless Views of Rome but that didn’t stop people trying. These aquatints by James Mérigot date from 1798, and can be found in a British book dating from 1815, A Select Collection of Views and Ruins in Rome and its Vicinity. They lack Piranesi’s antiquarian detail and flair for perspective but serve as a reminder of how the city would have looked at the height of the Romantic era when Rome embodied many Romantic obsessions, not least the traces of a vanished civilisation with monstrous appetites. Mérigot gives us the picturesque Rome that would soon disappear once the new breed of archaeologists got to work. The ruined buildings are still overgrown and sunk in the soil; many of them—like Caesar’s Palace below—are being used as places to keep farm animals. Pictures such as these always prompt ambivalent feelings: the romance in the contemplation of a ruin is situated partly in this very neglect, a neglect we’ll never be able to experience again with Rome, or Petra or the Pyramids now they’ve been polished, repaired and quarantined as tourist attractions. Further neglect would have destroyed many of these sites but their present condition often seems equally unsatisfactory.




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