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Giovanni Battista Piranesi 1720-1778


Giovanni Battista Piranesi was a Venetian draughtsman and architect, who moved in 1740 to Rome, a town in which he was to remain until his death. In the same years in which Rome was becoming the main destination of the 'Grand Tour' in Europe, it was also a meeting place of the leading exponents of a movement of reform in the arts. Piranesi's etchings, all of a large format, represent mainly views of monuments of ancient Rome, observed and studied with the acute critical eye of an archaeologist of the Enlightenment. Having arrived in Rome from Venice, Piranesi was introduced into the circle of Monsignor Giovanni Bottari, the Librarian to the Corsini, who had an unusual knowledge of engravings, due to his role as curator of the Corsini collection. Piranesi's first works as an etcher was the series 'Prima Parte di Architetture e Prospettive' (1743), which was still based, in fact, on the Venetian view painting tradition. The genre of view painting, on which Piranesi based his work in the first years after arriving in Rome, gave him the means to elaborate and develop an original manner of seeing and documenting the past. In 1745 he completed the series 'Grotteschi' and the 'Invenzioni e Capricci di Carceri' etched in an impetuous, virtuoso manner which was entirely his own. In 1756 he brought out an eight-volume work, the 'Antichitą Romane'. The superb results which he managed to achieve in this work were the products of a mind fully focussed on a limited range of studies, a mind which fused, as happens only very rarely, a specialist understanding of engineering and architectural planning to a greater than normal faculty of fantasy and imagination

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

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This work was followed by the series 'Carceri d'Invenzioni' composed in 1760. This which was re-elaborated in the 'Invenzioni e Capricci di Carceri' with two additional plates added. The 'Carceri' (prisons) are in fact a series of 'Capricci' or 'Scherzi di Fantasia' in the manner of Tiepolo, whose work Piranesi saw during his last trip to Venice and which was to influence him greatly, and which was to be of fundamental importance in his technical development. In his etchings, the forms are quickly sketched out and traced on the plate with the same fluid, summary method which can be found also in Tiepolo's fantasies, but in a similarly personal style, and with mysterious subjects. Piranesi had begun to abandon the idea of disciplined planning in his work, for him the imaginary world was too rich to be defined within the inflexible limits of a strict doctrine or canons of taste. In this work the artist was continually making new discoveries, towards a new world of ideas. 'Piranesi is to be considered as one of the emblematic figures of Romantic Art along with Goya, Füssli and Blake (Kenneth Clark, The Romantic Rebellion, London 1973, page 46). Piranesi's other work included the 'Magnificenza et architettura de' romani' (1761) (the magnificence of  the architecture of Rome), and the 'Diverse maniere di adornare i camini e ogni altra parte degli edifici' (1769) (various methods of decorating fireplaces and every other part of buildings). Many of his plates are in the Calcografia Nazionale in Rome



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