The Grandeur of Rome: Prints by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)
February 21 - May 16, 2004
Architectural prints by one of the most important and influential printmakers of the eighteenth century, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720-1778) will be featured in this exhibition drawn from the Museum's permanent collection. An artist who helped shape contemporary notions of "the ancient city," Piranesi produced large-scale etchings of Rome's most renowned classical and Renaissance architectural sites. This exhibition of approximately 25 large-folio etchings, many from the widely distributed, mid-eighteenth century portfolio, Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome), includes images of real and imagined classical monuments. Many of these are still known today, including the Piazza del Campidoglio, the Via del Corso, the Baths of Diocletian, the Temple of Antoninus and Faustina, the Villa Maecenas, as well as the churches of St. Croce, St. Sebastian, and St. John Lateran. Together, this group demonstrates the great Italian printmaker's commitment to recording and glorifying the classical past, as well as his abiding interest in inventively treating his subjects on a grand scale.
An architect by training, Piranesi was well versed in the literature and structures of antiquity, the science of perspective, and contemporary stage design. Raised in Venice, he benefited from exposure to its innovative, eclectic art scene, and applied the spirit of experimentation found there to subjects he chose in and around Rome. Richly detailed and theatrical in conception, his prints exhibit a large repertory of textural effects, dramatic lighting, imaginary additions, and eye-catching viewpoints. They also demonstrate Piranesi's impressive command of linear perspective and the graphic expression of atmospheric perspective in highly complicated, printed compositions. The results are both visually compelling and technically stunning.
Ironically, true to his architectural training, Piranesi's main ambition was to design and build sumptuously decorated structures worthy of Rome's glorious history, an objective that largely went unfulfilled. Rather, he left his primary legacy in a lasting and highly influential body of graphic work that fostered a renewed interest in classical architecture and design, inspired by the best achievements of the past.