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Giovanni Battista Piranesi

I was interested in Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 - 1778) already when my small hometown hosted an exhibition of his works and copper plates as well! Especially the copper plates were much too an attraction to resist.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi portrait by a fellow engraver
Giovanni Battista Piranesi portrait by a fellow engraver,Felice Pollanzani "F.Pollanzani faciebat 1750 super permission" . Pergolesi was considered an excellent engraver (he went to Rome thinking of becoming an architect, though) but with a "strange" carachter, a little "mad" in a positive sense - see his incredible drawings of the famous ""Carceri" series or the "Grotteschi"; Goya visited his "bottega" in Rome while Giovanni Battista Primavesi was still alive, in the 1760s, and was probably impressed and influenced by him.

 

Piranesi works are those "old" prints you easily happen to see while walking on a street in Rome and being sold as souvenir or a poster because they create that old "Italy, Oh, Italy" look which doens't correspond to anything but a cliché...Italian culture for the masses.

I actually had one view of the Trevi Fountain in my home when I was a kid and I kept looking at it, never getting tired of staring at it. I didn't know it was made by Piranesi. I simply liked it.

Piranesi was born in Venice in 1720 and moved to Rome when he was 20, in 1740.

In his work you can see the Venetian rococo influence (many swirls and heavy curled lines; see the picture below from his "Grotteschi") mix with a more pompous and rigourous line drawing, with perspective views, often exagerated proportions and even total inventions. The cult of the Greek and Roman art coupled with the infant archeology were among his interests for all his life.

giovanni battista piranesi
Giovanni Battista Piranesi made this etching in 1748 in his personal style after having return to Venice, his hometown, for a trip and after and having worked with Tiepolo. The venetian rococo style is evident. [source]

He became famous with his "Views of Rome" and is even more famous today for his original and quite daring - for the time - imaginary visions of his "carceri" - prisons, that is, a popular theme in the venetian theater- and "grotteschi" both made with a rather "sketchy" hand and so an "unusual" look for his contemporaries (I imagine). It is said that he was seen as a kind of "phantasy" engraver and certainly the use of labyrintic staircases in different perspective could have had an influence on Goya and later Escher's drawings. I like to think that today he would have loved to be a conceptual artist and even a digital matting artist (e.g. the "Carceri" series, as I said, were taken from a theme of the 1700s Venetian theater; they could well be scenography sketches and a person shared his thought with me that perhaps they were also used as inspiration for the last scenes of the blockbuster movie "The Name of the Rose")

giovanni battista piranesi exhibition

The "bottega" was actually giving work to many artisans and engravers each specialized in a field like lettering, small figures, perhaps the skies and clouds, But apparently there was no transfer of a drawing from paper to the metal sheet.I don't know in which proportion Piranesi made all his work alone or with the help of others (like in other artists' botteghe), but certainly the unique drawings of the Carceri, and the Grotteschi must have been made by him only!

giovanni battista piranesi conference by Ginevra MarianiConference on Piranesi copper plates by Mrs Ginevra Mariani, director of the Calcoteca in Rome, Italy. In the background, a slide of Piranes' Carceri


Like the Japanese prints of the Edo period, engraving was a team work involving a publisher (e.g. Giovanni Gaetano Bottari, a very influential person in Rome at the time), an artist (Giovanni Battista Piranesi himself), helpers and a printer. The latter was also very important because it could impart special effects on the final print.

As a matter of fact, Piranesi was well aware of the importance of the image to spread culture and ideas quickly. Among his contemporary best sellers were reproductions of Raffaello and Michelangelo .

Moreover, Rome of the mid 18th century was the cross-road of all world ideas and artists. Piazza Navona, Piazza di Spagna were full of foreigners from all over the places. You can still buy original Piranesi prints in Via del Popolo in Rome, today. prices cary according to many factors, number of prints, conditions, size etc...

The "Calcoteca" in Rome keeps all Giovanni Battista Piranesi's original copper plates (the pictures below come from their website) . Until recently, some of the copper plates were still used on request to embellish some embassies in Rome, but now this practice has been stopped for conservation reasons.

Below are the copper plates. The final work would be a mirror image obtained with the acquaforte technique (gradual etching for chiaroscuro effects).

Giovanni Battista Piranesi copper plate

Giovanni Battista Piranesi copper plate

 

Giovanni Battista Piranesi copper plate

Giovanni Battista Piranesi copper plate

Giovanni Battista Piranesi copper plate

Giovanni Battista Piranesi copper plate

giovanni battista piranesi close detail copper plate carceri
A close detail of the copper plate for the print above. When you see the copper plates from real, made by Giovanni Battista Piranesi himself, you immediately notice the finesse of details into it and the way he worked - rather "sketchy" here, in contrast with his earlier works in the 1740s, the "Views of Rome" for instance.

 

Giovanni Battista Piranesi copper plate

 

 

 

 

Tempio Antico
Tempio Antico
Piranesi,...
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Piranesi View of Rome VI natural
Piranesi View of Rome VI natural
Piranesi,...
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Allegorical Frontispiece of Rome and Its History, from Le Antichita Romane de G.B. Piranesi
Allegorical Frontispiece of Rome and Its History, from Le Antichita Romane de G.B. Piranesi
Piranesi,...
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Rotonda
Rotonda
Piranesi,...
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Campidoglio Antico
Campidoglio Antico
Piranesi,...
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Piranesi View of Rome I
Piranesi View of Rome I
Piranesi,...
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Piranesi View of Rome II
Piranesi View of Rome II
Piranesi,...
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Piranesi View of Rome III
Piranesi View of Rome III
Piranesi,...
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Piranesi View of Rome IV
Piranesi View of Rome IV
Piranesi,...
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Piranesi View of Rome V
Piranesi View of Rome V
Piranesi,...
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Piranesi View of Rome VI
Piranesi View of Rome VI
Piranesi,...
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Return from Giovanni Battista Piranesi back to the famous illustrators webpage

 

sources and further reading (Italian language; sorry; apparently in Rome don't think it's necessary to translate. Oh, by the way, this is place of the largest collection of Piranesi's works and copper plates in the world: http://www.grafica.arti.beniculturali.it/Piranesi/index.htm)

 

 

 

 

 

    
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