Pablo Bronstein

Cross Section of the Via Appia in Late Antiquity


Not on display

Pablo Bronstein born 1977
Ink and watercolour on paper
Frame, each: 1160 × 2160 × 65 mm
Purchased with the assistance of Celia and Edward Atkin CBE 2017


Cross Section of the Via Appia in Late Antiquity 2015 is made up of eighteen large individual ink and watercolour works on paper which are individually framed. When displayed altogether, they are installed in a single line around a gallery with the image at eye level allowing visitors to promenade past. Like much of Bronstein’s work on paper, the drawings mirror the precise draughtsmanship of architectural or design plans – here inspired by the Via Appia of Roman antiquity – but include buildings from different centuries or incongruous elements such as baroque mouldings on a modernist building. In many of drawings where a building has been opened up by the use of a ‘cross section’, Bronstein has highlighted interior decorative features with strong shades of blue, red, pink, purple and yellow watercolour, creating a sense of tension between the empty ruins of the external public landscape and the lost grandeur of the private interiors.

The work was commissioned for Bronstein’s exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary in 2015 and was his most substantial work on paper up to that time. It demonstrates not only the artist’s flair for draftsmanship but also articulates his deep knowledge of, and passionate interest in, art, design and architectural history. The Via Appia was the earliest and most strategically important road out of Ancient Rome, and was lined with churches, mausoleums, catacombs and private mansions. After it fell into ruin, the Via Appia attracted the attention of Renaissance artists and architects, including Michelangelo and Raphael, who planned to restore it. It later featured frequently in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century vedute – large-scale realistic paintings, etchings or prints that captured some of the most famous scenes of the Grand Tour. These sometimes incorporated fantasy architectural elements, most notably those of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) in the eighteenth century, whose views of real and recreated Roman ruins were a strong influence on the development of Neo-Classicism in Europe. In his work, Bronstein is alluding both to the Grand Tour and to the long history of the capriccio, or architectural fantasy.

By depicting the Via Appia to create a panorama of imaginary funerary monuments, Bronstein is also fabricating an invented archaeological cross-section of the site where the heroes of the ancient world were buried. The lateral stratification of this panorama engages with a panoply of historical architectural styles from the ancient Roman classical ideal that might be expected, to styles that reacted to it, such as Renaissance and Baroque architecture, French academic utopian architecture, Viennese fin-de-siecle and 1930s classicism. Bronstein has remarked of the work that, ‘It is a tableau of remnants of architectural styles from many periods and places, and set within a general landscape of emptiness’ (conversation with Tate curator Linsey Young, 17 June 2016). His landscape is one that is defined by time and the act of walking, or promenading, beside it; history is not revealed through the archaeological norm of layers uncovered from the earth, but laterally and within each monument, as well as in the presentation of the work itself, as Bronstein has elaborated:

The line created by the drawings is a cross-section but also a panorama with a horizon. The panorama is a scene about the end of time, civilisation and historical style, seen from a cold perspective. It is a walk alongside diverse scenes, encouraging the public to actively participate in the viewing of a long ink-drawing, as if they were strolling through and along the Via Appia and walking through the actual archaeological site. The format of the work is directly related to the content.

Further reading
Andrea Bellini, Pablo Bronstein: A is Building B is Architecture, Berlin 2013.
Pablo Bronstein, Pablo Bronstein: Gilded Keyholes, Berlin 2013.

Linsey Young
September 2016

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Display caption

This series of 18 drawings is inspired by the Via Appia in Rome. One of the city’s oldest and most important roads, it is lined with churches, mausoleums and mansions. Bronstein’s version is deliberately unrealistic. Set in an empty landscape, it includes styles from different periods of architectural history. Bronstein sees it as a single long drawing. ‘The panorama is a scene about the end of time, civilization, and historical styles – as seen from a cold perspective’, he has said. Visitors can follow it around the gallery as if they were strolling along the Via Appia.

Gallery label, October 2020

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