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architectural art and engraving

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)

Giovanni Battista Piranesi was a major Italian printmaker, architect and antiquarian. The son of a Venetian master builder, he studied architecture and stage design, through which he became familiar with Illusionism.

During a visit (1740) to Rome, which was then emerging as the center of European Neoclassicism, Piranesi began his lifelong obsession with the visual diversity of the city's architecture. He was taught (1740-44) etching, the art form for which he remains best known, by Giuseppe Vasi. Piranesi then began to etch views of Roman architecture that reflected his deeply felt emotional response to the surviving remnants of ancient grandeur.

Piranesi's etchings, executed from the 1740s onward, are technically masterful evocations of ancient buildings that are simultaneously scholarly inquiries and fanciful essays in space, light, and scale. When collected and published (1756) in Antichita Romane (Roman Antiquities) the 135 etchings created a sensation throughout Europe. Equally stimulating are the superb architectural fantasies depicted in his Carceri d'Invenzione (Imaginary Prisons, begun c.1745, reworked 1761).

Copyright 1995 by Grolier Electronic Publishing, Inc

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Giovanni Piranesi engraving of sepulchre
Giambattista Piranesi
View of the Sepulchre at Porte Maggiore
Original copperplate etching from Antichitta Romane,
Circa 1760
16 x 21 1/4 in

Polanzani portrait drawing of Giambiattista Piranesi
F. Polanzani
Giambattista Piranesi Portrait for Antichitta Romane
Etching, 1750
18 x 13 inches

David Jameson
ArchiTech Gallery
730 North Franklin suite 200
Chicago, IL 60654

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