Piranesi: Architecture of the Eye and Mind

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Large sculpture gallery, ca. 1743
Feb 25, 2006 - Jul 27, 2006
Voorhees Gallery Corridor

By the age of twenty, Venetian-born Giovanni Battista Piranesi had mastered elaborate systems of perspectival composition as part of his architectural and theatrical design training. Unable to find work in Venice in either of these areas, Piranesi accepted a post as draughtsman to Marco Foscarini, the Venetian ambassador to the Vatican, and moved to Rome in 1740.

Luckily for Piranesi, eighteenth-century Rome had become one of the prime destination sites on the Grand Tour, and in the age before photography, visitors (especially the English) collected vedute (topographical views) and capricci (imaginative compositions) as souvenirs of their travels. Piranesi quickly learned the technique of engraving from Giuseppe Vasi and in 1743 Piranesi produced his first architectural fantasies, Prima parte di architetture e prospettive. He went on to create many more volumes on architectural themes in the course of his long career. His innovative archeological approach earned him an international reputation and his powerful images of the decomposition of antiquity, which had fascinated his Renaissance predecessors in earlier centuries, had a profound impact on his contemporaries in the early days of Romanticism.

This exhibition is drawn entirely from the collection of the Zimmerli Art Museum and includes prints representative of the range of the artist’s imagery: from topographical views of Rome, documenting significant and lesser-known sites, to his grotteschi (grotesques), imaginary re-creations of ancient temples and other monuments both inside and outside of the city.

Giovanni-Battista Piranesi 

Large sculpture gallery from Prima Parte di Architetture e Prospettive (Part One of Architecture and Perspective), ca.1743


Collection Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers