Piranesi, Giovanni Battista

Piranesi, Giovanni Battista
or Giambattista Piranesi

born Oct. 4, 1720, Mestre, near Venice
died Nov. 9, 1778, Rome, Papal States

Italian draftsman, printmaker, architect, and art theorist.

He went to Rome at 20 as a draftsman for the Venetian ambassador. After settling there in 1747, he developed a highly original etching technique that produced rich textures and bold contrasts of light and shadow. His many prints of Classical and post-Classical Roman structures contributed to the growth of Classical archaeology and the Neoclassical art movement. He is best known today for his extraordinary series of imaginary prisons (Carceri d'invenzione, 1745). His prints are among the most impressive architectural representations in Western art.

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▪ Italian artist
also called  Giambattista Piranesi  
born Oct. 4, 1720, Mestre, near Venice [Italy]
died Nov. 9, 1778, Rome, Papal States

      Italian draftsman, printmaker, architect, and art theorist. His large prints depicting the buildings of classical and postclassical Rome and its vicinity contributed considerably to Rome's fame and to the growth of classical archaeology and to the Neoclassical movement in art.

      At the age of 20 Piranesi went to Rome as a draftsman for the Venetian ambassador. He studied with leading printmakers of the day and settled permanently in Rome in 1745. It was during this period that he developed his highly original etching technique, producing rich textures and bold contrasts of light and shadow by means of intricate, repeated bitings of the copperplate.

 He created about 2,000 plates in his lifetime. The “Prisons” (Carceri; see photograph—>) of about 1745 are his finest early prints; they depict ancient Roman or Baroque ruins converted into fantastic, visionary dungeons filled with mysterious scaffolding and instruments of torture. Among his best mature prints are the series Le Antichità romane (1756; “Roman Antiquities”), the Vedute di Roma (“Views of Rome”; appearing as single prints between 1748 and 1778), and the views of the Greek temples at Paestum (1777–78). His unparalleled accuracy of depiction, his personal expression of the structures' dramatic and romantic grandeur, and his technical mastery made these prints some of the most original and impressive representations of architecture to be found in Western art.

Additional Reading
A. Hyatt Mayor, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1952), is a biography. John Wilton-Ely, The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1978, reissued 1988), Piranesi as Architect and Designer (1993), and Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, 2 vol. (1994), examine the many aspects of Piranesi as a man and as an artist. Mario Bevilacqua, Heather Hyde Minor, and Fabio Barry (eds.), The Serpent and the Stylus: Essays on G.B. Piranesi (2006), also examines many aspects of Piranesi's life and work.

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