An Architectural Star: The Roman Colosseum Across Media

Braden Lee Scott
McGill University, Montréal, Québec, Canada

The Colosseum of Rome, built as the Flavian Amphitheatre between 70 and 80 CE, continues to stand as the monumental image of a city that was once the centre of a major world power. A large amphitheatre made of stone, however, must still abide to the simplest of gravitational laws. When antiquity was feverishly fetishized in the era of the European Renaissance, parts of the building had already been disassembled or had succumbed to nature’s attempts to return the material to the earth. Despite the crumbling state of the Colosseum, it was revered, studied, and had its image recreated in art practices such as drawing and painting. Although I take into account that the building continues to be a contemporary object in the Italian city of Rome, I do not wish simply to articulate a linear history of the Colosseum and its gradual decay. Instead I explore ruin as a moving concept and find ways to link it with Stephen Cairns’ and Jane M. Jacobs’ argument that buildings and their ruination have a quality of life. Then, I push the idea of architecture in motion to include the network of its image, with examples such as Maarten van Heemskerck’s painting Self Portrait before the Colosseum (1553) and Paolo Sorrentino’s film La grande belleza (2013). Artistic engagements with the amphitheatre have developed an image of an architectural icon that not only inspire imaginative renderings, but situate the Colosseum as a celebrated star within its own media world. Working with ancient archaeologist Carl Knappet’s theory of spatial networks, Erin Manning’s philosophy of architectural worlding, and Giuliana Bruno’s concept of architectural fabrication across media, the Colosseum as a crumbling architecture of ancient entertainment begins to be understood as a node within a much larger network of spectacle.