View in the Roman Forum (The Temple of Peace)

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According to Sophie Thomas’s conceptualization of early travel painting, Louis-Rodolphe Ducros’s View in the Roman Forum (The Temple of Peace) (1779) is a very typical print. Cutting a nearly perfect diagonal across the picture plane from the top left corner, the ruins of the Temple of Peace, or Basilica of Maxentius, loom large on the canvas, casting a shadow on the groups of peasants and ghosts that have gathered at the foot of the ruin. To the right, beyond the shadow that encompasses the people, we can see several trees and what appears to be the side of the Coliseum in the distance. This juxtaposition of the “present”—embodied by the figures of the peasants—and the "past"—suggested by the glimpse of the Coliseum—fits Thomas’s conceptualization of Rome as a “virtual” city for the Romantic beholder, one that could be seen as a “‘place’ hovering in disconcerting and at times imaginary ways between the present and the past” (S. Thomas, Romanticism and Visuality 68). The intersection of the visible and the invisible, the material and the immaterial come to the forefront as tourists gazed at the ruins of a pagan and a Christian past surrounded by the "modern" metropolis. The liminality of the site with regard to religious significance is particularly relevant as The Temple of Peace is simultaneously a pagan and Christian site, being associated both with Maxentius, the last pagan emperor of Rome, and Constantine the Great. Thomas locates the travelers’ disorientation when confronted with the multiple pasts of Rome in the common “resistance on the part of the travelers to seeing ‘modern’ Rome as it is (or was), preferring instead to perceive the city through the suggestive remnants of its ancient forms” (68). Despite viewers’ resistence to see the city in its modern state, Ducros’s print seems to adhere to Gilpin’s call for picturesque tourism to be centered around the “searching after effects”; here it is the effect of the present merging with the past, the visible with the invisible.