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, in black and white.
Portrait of Piranesi (1750) by Felice Ponzani

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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 andperspectivecomposition. 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) by Pietro Labruzzi.
Portrait of Piranesi (1779) Pietro Labruzzi

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Piranesi’s Major Works

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

Rome: View from the Bridge and Castel Sant'Angelo (title of the drawing) Views of Rome drawn by Giambattista Piranesi, Venetian architect, 1941.
View from the Bridge and Castel Sant’Angelo, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1941)

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Giovanni Battista Piranesi's drawing of the Roman Antiquities.
Roman Antiquities, Giovanni Battista Piranesi

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Additionally, he continued to produce plates for theViews of Romeseries 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 a castle on the left.
Piramide van Cestius te Rome (1748 – 1778) by Giovanni Battista Piranesi

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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.

Carceri板七世,吊桥Pirane (1745)si.
Carceri板七世,吊桥Pirane (1745)si

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The Arch with a Shell Ornament  Italy, 1761, Series: Le Carceri d'invenzione, by Piranesi.
The Arch with a Shell Ornament (1761) Le Carceri d’invenzione

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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

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Info sources:–italian-1720-1778/

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