Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)

Italian etcher, archaeologist, designer, theorist and architect, Giovanni Battista Piranesi was one of the greatest figures of the 18th century.

Portrait of Piranesi (1750) by Felice Ponzani

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Giovanni_Battista_Piranesi#/media/File:Felice_Polanzani_-_Giovanni_Battista_Piranesi.jpg

About His Life

Giovanni Battista Piranesi was born on October 4, 1720, in Venice. Initially, he learned to draw from his uncle, who was a designer and hydraulic enginee, but also studied scenography and perspective composition. At the age of 20, Piranesi moved to Rome, where he studied the ancient monuments of this city. There, he made original engravings on the theme of ancient and modern Roman landscapes, which brought him popularity. Later, he created a series of engravings of fantastic prison interiors. Then, at the age of fifty, he produced drawings and engravings of Greek architecture in southern Italy thanks to his interest in archaeology. During the expedition, health problems forced him to return to Rome, where he died at the age of fifty-eight.

Portrait of Piranesi (1779) Pietro Labruzzi

Image source: https://commons.wikimedia.org

Piranesi’s Major Works

He is best known for his Views of Rome (Vedute di Roma), with beautifully observed and deeply Romantic evocations of decrepit grandeur.

File:Engelenbrug en Engelenburcht te Rome Veduta del Ponte e Castello Sant'Angelo (titel op object) Gezichten op Rome (serietitel) Vedute di Roma disegnate ed incise da Giambattista Piranesi architetto Ve(nez)iano (serieti, RP-P-1941-566.jpg
Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1941)

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/e4df848b-8257-4328-aa4d-c8c10e506646

[ P ] Giovanni Battista Piranesi - Le Antichita Romane, Tom IV - IV
Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/5770209c-4cb6-4096-bbc5-d091e308c4e7 by Cea.

Additionally, he continued to produce plates for the Views of Rome series until 1778, when he died. The popular series overshadowed earlier Roman landmarks with its dynamism, vibrant lighting effects, and dramatic presentation. Goethe, who knew Rome from Piranesi’s engravings, was somewhat disappointed when he saw this city in reality.

Piramide van Cestius te Rome (1748 - 1778) by Giovanni Battista Piranesi: A drawing of a pyramid and castle on the left.
Piramide van Cestius te Rome (1748 – 1778) by Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Image source: https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/RP-P-1941-586

Carceri, a set of 14 copperplate engravings, is a series of labyrinths of prison interiors. In these prints, Piranesi explored the possibilities of perspective and spatial illusion, while at the same time pushing engraving to the limit.

File:Titelprent met gezicht in kerker en titel op muur Kerkers (serietitel) Carceri d'invenzione (serietitel op object), RP-P-OB-39.569.jpg
Carceri Plate VII, The Drawbridge (1745) by Piranesi

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/57aec126-787b-47af-b1f6-bd158d452d0c

The Arch with a Shell Ornament LACMA 46.27.11- : Italy, 1761, Series: Le Carceri d'invenzione, pl XI
The Arch with a Shell Ornament (1761) Le Carceri d’invenzione

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/8c9ec398-f833-4fc7-8a53-a98552a5688a

Features of His Style

  • Perspective restitution methods in his etchings
  • New artistic visions of the buildings that exist but in a different form
  • Magical and mysterious views of Rome in a perfect combination of perspective, theatrical composition, and play of light and shadow using the chiaroscuro technique
  • Pieced together facts and detail with incomparable levels of emotional expression
Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Via Appia, 1956
Via Appia (1956) Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Image source: https://search.creativecommons.org/photos/4136512f-9b6e-4797-bc05-e7336ca6bbea by bianca.maggio


Info sources:

http://www.getty.edu/art/collection/artists/804/giovanni-battista–italian-1720-1778/

http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/pira/hd_pira.htm

https://artinprint.org/article/messing-about-with-masterpieces/

http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/13602360802573868

 

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