Thursday, August 12, 2021

PIRANESI ... an introduction ... roughly transcribed from my facebook series ... with a few additions ... not to be mistaken for scholarship ... i cannot go THERE !

PIRANESI … Day 1 … Once upon a time ... in about 1974 ... I slept one night on the floor of a writer's study in a very posh flat near Trafalgar Square ... waking in the early hours, I stared up at lovely glazed bookcases ... and took down an enormous & ancient leather-bound volume of prints by Piranesi ... now it is catch-up time ...

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Giovanni_Battista_Piranesi

Extras ... Hmmm !  More extras ...

I've just ( 15/08/2021 ) found a book about his life that you can read on-line ...
It carries a lovely short biography, well worth your precious time ... although it means I shall have to make a number of corrections and revisions ...
















Born near Venice in 1720, son of a stonemason.

Migrated to Rome as an engraver’s apprentice in 1740.

His imagination was inflamed from the very start.

Driven back to Venice by poverty for two years.

There encounterd the new work of Domenico Tiepolo and Canaletto.

Returned to Rome re-invigorated.

He never stopped working until he died in Rome in 1778.

Here is an early fantasy of Ancient Rome, thought to have been drawn in about 1742, kept in New York's rarther wonderful Morgan Library ...










https://www.themorgan.org/drawings/item/142473


Piranesi … Day 2 …

Piranesi’s many Volumes were often added to and could be altered by publishers whenever necessary.  Title plates might be re-drawn to honour new patrons, new texts might be added, etc.  Dedications to his sponsors were especially important because they had often given large sums of cash up-front. 

There are too many volumes for me to deal with in a 30-day scrapbook, and those which survive show us that plates were often lost by collectors, new plates might be added, volumes might even be bound in the wrong order, or separate volumes might be aggregated by collectors and then bound together. 

Piranesi worked with improbable vigour and it is thought that the vapours from his etching acids may have impaired his health and brought on his early death. 

Here’s an example of how the copper plate for a title page could be re-worked by him in order to be re-dedicated.  Parts of the original would be obliterated by burnishing back to a smooth blank surface, then re-engraving and etching. 

The text here declares his membership of a fellowship of Arcadians, they had given him the pseudonym Salcindio Tiseio
































Piranesi … Day 3 …

Before the start of his career in Rome, Piranesi had mastered two of the fundamental tricks of the engraver’s trade … creating space & atmosphere using exaggerated gradations of tone, with thicker lines and deeper shadows in the foreground … and exaggerating the vertical scale of buildings … first by using sharply convergent lines of perspective … and second by diminishing the size of the human figures in his views.  Apparently these were tricks-of-the-trade well known to designers of theatre stage sets in his native Venice.














One of Piranesi’s Fantasias … “Camera sepolcrale” roughly translates as “Burial chamber” … this print was only added to the 1643 volume, PRIMA PARTE DI ARCHITETTURE E PROSPETTIVE, in around 1650.


Piranesi … Day 4 …

Souvenir albums of engravings were part of the shopping list for the very rich folk who toured Europe before picture postcards were invented.  From 1742, the young Piranesi engraved scenes that were his contributions to a large volume of Diverse Views of Ancient and Modern Rome published by Fausto Amidei in 1748.  Of those 93 plates, Piranesi contributed 47.  It seems to me that most of them are rather plain views of Rome’s churches and fine buildings, whilst Piranesi was already becoming more excited by ancient ruins. 














Piranesi’s later bridges are much more impressive …






  















Piranesi … Day 5 … returning to Venice for two years, he was stimulated and influenced by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's brilliant Scherzi and Capricci series ... and by the work of Canaletto

Grotteschi (ca. 1748) … a set of four prints by Italian engraver Giovanni Battista Piranesi. The set is part of the Opere Varie (1750).

Created when Piranesi returned to Rome after a stay in Venice, where he is said to have worked briefly with Tiepolo, the four etchings of the Grotteschi series reflect Piranesi's encounter with the remarkable prints of the famous Venetian painter.  In The Skeletons, the light, sketchy strokes of varying lengths found in some areas of the print recall Tiepolo's technique, while the combination of skulls, vegetation, and crumbling ruins, as well as the ambiguity of the subject, are characteristics shared with Tiepolo's Scherzi and Capricci series. A few direct quotations from Tiepolo are seen in the Grotteschi—the smiling herm who appears here and in The Triumphal Arch has its source in one of Tiepolo's Scherzi.  Whether Piranesi worked for Tiepolo or merely became acquainted with him, it appears likely that the older artist introduced Piranesi to the work of his favorite seventeenth-century printmakers. The skeletons in this print recall certain etchings by Stefano della Bella, while Salvator Rosa—who also depicted piles of bones, ruins, and smoking urns—provides a model for the scribbled lines and webs of crosshatching that first appear in this series.  Clicketty–click for the fine details …





















The Skeletons https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/361994

 

Piranesi … Day 6 … the other three Grotteschi …



















The Monumental Tablet https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/362672



















The Triumphal Arch https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/359965











The Tomb of Nero https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/362674


Of course, the apparent spontaneity of these works is illusory ... there was a lot of prep ... or if you like; thinking aloud on paper ... as evidenced by this item in the Morgan Library 











https://www.themorgan.org/drawings/item/142393

And here are a modern UK dealer’s excellent notes …

https://www.robinhalwas.com/200208-piranesi-grotteschi-skeletons-triumphal-arch-tomb-of-nero-monumental-tablet

You can see the original copper plates on the website of Italy’s Instituto Centrale Per La Grafica … https://www.calcografica.it/matrici/fondo.php?id=firmin-didot-piranesi&serie=grotteschi# 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KHWegvDxXk4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dpQ7wS7O7V4

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4lN4M0sj6wc


Piranesi … Day 7 …

Piranesi’s imagination seems to have been soured for a little while with fearful nightmares and dismal prospects of barbaric imprisonment ... and yet his drawings kept a mischievous or adventurous sense of play with the so-called “rules” of perspective.

His Carceri series show views of “infinite prisons”, possibly derived from nightmares he’d experienced during illness.  Many of his original copper plates are preserved at the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica in Rome. 

IGNORE THE TWO SHORT PARAGRAPHS ABOVE ...

I haven't read all of the literature ... I haven't got any inkling of the context of Piranesi's Carceri series ... most importantly ... why he published them as a slightly dissonant part of his Opere series ... and why he spent so much time revising and altering them ... 














Thomas De Quincey in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater (1820) perfectly described the hallucinatory visions you get while looking at Piranesi’s works: “Many years ago, when I was looking over Piranesi's Antiquities of Rome, Mr. Coleridge, who was standing by, described to me a set of plates by that artist ... which record the scenery of his own visions during the delirium of a fever: some of them (I describe only from memory of Mr. Coleridge's account) representing vast Gothic halls, on the floor of which stood all sorts of engines and machinery, wheels, cables, pulleys, levers, catapults, etc., etc., expressive of enormous power put forth, and resistance overcome. Creeping along the sides of the walls, you perceived a staircase; and upon it, groping his way upwards, was Piranesi himself: follow the stairs a little further, and you perceive it come to a sudden abrupt termination, without any balustrade, and allowing no step onwards to him who had reached the extremity, except into the depths below. ... But raise your eyes, and behold a second flight of stairs still higher: on which again Piranesi is perceived, but this time standing on the very brink of the abyss. Again elevate your eye, and a still more aerial flight of stairs is beheld: and again is poor Piranesi busy on his aspiring labors: and so on, until the unfinished stairs and Piranesi both are lost in the upper gloom of the hall.”

HOWEVER ... there are more rational explanations for the Carceri prints being an allegorical and satirical commentary on the constraints of freedom of expression, and the lack of imagination and political stagnation in Roman society.  Helen Marodin published a thesis in 2018 which details the evidence for this ... in essence she takes Occam’s razor to a few academic hot air merchants …

https://core.ac.uk/download/pdf/217691454.pdf


And here’s a modern animation based on the Carceri images …

https://www.factum-arte.com/pag/180/


And here's another extremely clever animation derived from the Carceri images

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=guLBWupgh-Q...


Piranesi … Day 8 …

The original thirteen Carceri prints …




 




Christie’s 2019 Auction Notes … https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-6185649

Warning … everything you ever read in science or in the histories, must be treated with skeptical caution … so ... the following is entertaining and almost certainly accurate, yet I cannot vouch for it’s author, or her sources …

https://www.piraneseum.com/piraneseum/architectural-etchings/introduction/


Piranesi … Day 9 …

Many a slip … and many an adjustment …

The Carceri set of prints, with a title page and 13 plates, were on sale in Rome in 1749 from the publisher Bouchard, and were later included in the larger volume, the Opere Varie, in 1750.

Piranesi etched a grand title page for Bouchard, but mis-spelled his French name, and subsequently made some really dramatic revisions for later printings.

























Christie’s Lot Essay declared …

It is only in copies of the First Edition that the spontaneity, energy and virtuoso draughtsmanship with which Piranesi made the Carceri can be fully appreciated. For the later editions, he reworked the plates with increasing density and the impressions seem heavy and turgid in comparison.”

That the revised Carceri print series was "turgid" is an "opinion", not a "fact" ... 


Piranesi … Day 10 …

It is difficult to disentangle the timelines of Piranesi’s projects.  He experimented with techniques all the time, but his works, even if  produced in sequence, sometimes found their way into different volumes.  The carefully incised rendering of these imaginary views contrasts with the energetic mark-making of the Carceri and Grotteschi sets, yet seem to date from 1748, the very next year.












































And these fine works date from the same time as Piranesi’s detailed sub-contracted work on Nolli’s New Map of Rome …










These notes from the Met might offer some insight … https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/338737


Piranesi … Day 11 … The Antiquities of Rome …

Saga time !  In the 1750s Piranesi’s capacious intelligence became even more deeply focussed on Rome’s antiquities; partly because they were vanishing quickly, perhaps because he came to see them as a civic exemplar, because his architectural curiosity led him to ask searching questions about their methods of construction, because their ornamentation would later become a rich source of inspiration in his own neo-classical design work, and because they nourished his imagination.  He had also become a seriously committed archaeologist who measured before he drew.  










https://www.bada.org/object/rare-first-edition-piranesis-study-antiquities-rome-bookplate-duke-westminster

 The original title page in the first edition of Le Antichit√† Romane had been dedicated to the young Lord Charlemont, but there followed a “misunderstanding” about money and patronage which led Piranesi to redesign it and to add some inflammatory remarks … at some length, and very publicly.  

















later editions would be dedicated to other clients ...











Piranesi’s outraged denunciation of Lord Charlemont became the subject of much controversy and negotiation.














Read on … https://www.christies.com/en/lot/lot-5698541

… and on,  ... https://stanleymuseum.uiowa.edu/about/stories-from-sma/from-the-archives-giovanni-battista-piranesi-and-le-antichita-romane/


Piranesi … Day 12 … 














Le Antichit√† Romane was an ambitious, magnificent project.  This massive survey involved so many plates that not all could be engraved by the artist before his early death, and the project continued to expand, carried on by his son with several collaborating artists and engravers.  Piranesi died in 1778 but Volumes III and IV were only published in 1784.  The project’s popularity ensured the printing was continued by his son Francesco after moving their workshop to Paris, & French versions continued to be printed even after his death in 1810. 














The University of South Carolina retains a heap of the later French volumes, originally purchased together when freshly printed in Paris more than fifty years after Piranesi’s death.  This set of twenty-nine elephant-folio volumes was published there between 1837 and 1839 using Piranesi's original copper plates. 

The volumes were produced by Firmin Didot, a company known for its editions of western classics. Whilst acquisition details have been difficult to trace, these volumes have almost certainly been at the University of South Carolina, formerly South Carolina College, since the 1870s.  The university is busily curating a far-from-complete archive of huge images with extensive annotations, The Digital Piranesi … such huge images take ages to download but will reward your patience

 https://digital.library.sc.edu/collections/opere-di-giambattista-piranesi/

https://scalar.usc.edu/works/piranesidigitalproject/volumes

 

Coming from a family of masons and architects, Piranesi never forgets the “hows and whys” of shifting masonry in to position …




















Check out a nice video … https://youtu.be/Ok8LpLSpyFo

 

Piranesi … Day 13 …

The title pages of the second, third and fourth volumes of Le Antichita clearly show how Piranesi’s improving skills, his boundless energy, and inflamed vision made it possible for his imagination to soar to the heights … or whatever.




































Piranesi … Day 14 …

Some jokers allege that, after glimpsing Piranesi’s gleefully imaginative frontispiece for Volume 2, tourists began to arrive in Rome fully expecting to visit this picturesque corner … the British Museum has his original pen and wash sketch …



















The third volume opens with another fantasy frontispiece …


















Whilst Volume One had explored Piranesi’s enthusiasm for Ancient Rome’s aqueducts and baths, Volume Two looked at robbed and ruined burial chambers and memorials of the Roman nobility.  Piranesi’s imagination was fully unleashed, his antiquarian and architectural instincts made him strive to clarify the structural principles of the chaotic ruins he examined, and to provide much longer explanatory footnotes.


Piranesi … Day 15 …

By 1765, Piranesi’s engraving technique, and his ability to render surfaces of different materials in light or shade, had taken a great leap forward.  His lettering, too, was much smaller and more even. There was so much he wanted to show and tell to startle the World, and now he knew exactly how !










































Piranesi … Day 16 …

In 1755, after Lord Charlemont had gone back to Ireland, the young, immensely talented and immensely ambitious architect Robert Adam showed up in Rome.  He and Piranesi became great friends and often surveyed the ruins together.

Adam shipped  loads of Piranesi’s volumes back to England to sell on Piranesi’s behalf, and Piranesi dedicated some volumes to Adam, knowing this would make each of them more marketable.  Adam also absorbed every lesson Piranesi had to offer, as you will see if you care to study Adam’s work. 

Back in the United Kingdom, Adam quickly became the most prolific architect and designer of his generation, showing an elegance and lightness of touch that Piranesi never quite matched, mainly because he had so few commissions to design or build.  But still, Piranesi’s printed volumes provided an invaluable pattern book for every decorator and designer in Europe.














Sometimes, a dedication might be added to a folio at short notice … here it seems that Piranesi had prepared but never completed one such.














https://blogs.library.duke.edu/magazine/2014/06/10/constructive-criticism-a-rare-find-recalls-an-architectural-debate/


Day 16a ...

ARTISTIC LICENCE WARNING … 

a) There is many a slip between an artist’s sketch and a finished engraving … 

& b) ... always read the small print in the small print! … right down to the bottom line ! … 

This plate from Volume 2 of Le Antichita has been worked by TWO artists … by Piranesi himself, and by one of his collaborators, the Frenchman, Barbault ... I wonder if  Piranesi felt he wasn’t clever enough with the faces of classical nudes & so he sensibly delegated the work to another very talented engraver with the right kind of academic training.
























Piranesi … Day 17 … 



















Vedute di Roma … I’m not sure exactly when the Vedute and the Antichita projects began … I may have them in the wrong order.  The lovely frontispieces would have been designed after the completion  of the first edition’s prints, anyway. 

The Vedute confused me at first because, having contributed so much to Amadei’s Vedute in the 1740s, Piranesi had already begun to work towards producing his own volume by the late 1740s.  His own series would be altogether bigger and more spectacular, and this project rolled over through the decades as he added more and more prints, and re-worked the old ones into thicker volumes. 

No publication-date is given on the title-plate; plate [84] appears to carry the date of 1766. The Vedute series was begun in 1747 and continued until Piranesi's death in 1778, by which time a complete set would have included a title-plate and 134 plates of views; Piranesi's son Francesco added a further two plates.

https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/pira/hd_pira.htm


Piranesi … Day 18 …

By the early 1760s, Piranesi’s books had become big business and he was able to open his own gallery / shop in 1761.    He was proudly nationalistic and produced this huge volume to promote his belief that Roman art was superior to Greek.










The title page proclaims his honorary rank as a member of the British Royal Academy of Antiquarians

https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/363388























...you can see how Piranesi became even more deeply fascinated by ornamentation


Piranesi … day 19 …

Illustrating the “Magnificenza” … everything had to be drawn and engraved on copper, remember !


















In 1835, the Parisian printers Firmin Didot acquired Piranesi's copperplates, which were first brought to Paris by his son, Francesco Piranesi.

Francesco had died there in 1810, deeply in debt, at which time the plates were impounded by the French government.

I don't know if Firmin Didot offered to sell the plates to the Pope or whether they were ordered to, but in 1839, the plates were bought from Firmin Didot by the Camera Apostolica, and brought back to Rome to the Calcographia Nazionale, where they remain today.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8whmCw5FlVA


Piranesi Day 20 …

Illustrating the “Magnificenza” …

… of the Cloaca Maxima !  It must have been the smelliest place in Ancient Rome, apart from the burial pits near the Colosseum … When Piranesi drew something … he drew in order to understand it ...














https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cloaca_Maxima

  

Piranesi … Day 21 …

Piranesi drew exemplary maps, none finer than his imaginative representation of the layout of the Campus Martius … which he added to, now and again … another mighty project ! 

Campus Martius was a flood-prone empty space when Rome was founded, but was gradually built over, and over again, until it was stuffed with, and then buried deep beneath, layers of history.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Campus_Martius

This was already a kind of infinite playground for antiquarians for centuries before Adam and Piranesi tried to make sense of the chaos.  Piranesi’s “trick” was to ignore all the plebian and residential clutter, only concentrating on the layout of the civic buildings, and then trying to guess how they looked.














The precision and detailing of some plates was both masterly and mind-boggling, but still largely fanciful.  I get the feeling Piranesi wanted Ancient Rome to “out-Jerusalem” the Jerusalem of the popular imagination. 

In reality, most of the cities in history were overcrowded and had very poor sanitation ... centuries later, JK Galbraith articulated a notion that there was an inevitable imbalance between private affluence and public squalor.


Piranesi … Day 22 …

Piranesi’s map of the Campo Marzio is called The Ichno-graphia … and like so much of Piranesi’s work, it is a kind of fiction because it includes a lot, and it leaves out so much.














1757

Etching in six plates

134.6 × 115.7 cm (53 × 45 9/16 in.)

platemark (each): 45 × 58.5 cm (17 11/16 × 23 1/16 in.)


Piranesi … Day 23 … still in the Campo Marzio …

I’ve always enjoyed Piranesi’s 18th Century art unquestioningly … yet historians and others see him through intellectual prisms ... some see a connection between Piranesi’s sanitizing & mythologized view of the past, and 18th Century Rome’s dis-satisfaction with their city’s decline, their sentimental tendency towards nationalism, and even an affirmation of Italian’s re-awakening imperialistic ambitions.  Who knows ?






















https://blog.nls.uk/robert-adam-rome-and-piranesi/


Piranesi … Day 24 …

In Piranesi’s time, newcomers came digging for antiquities, notably the Scot, Gavin Hamilton. 

Amongst his many discoveries were fragments of an enormous decorated urn at Tivoli. 

Piranesi added a few more fragments from another urn and then designed all of the missing parts.

Once the fabrication was completed, the renovated vase was displayed in Piranesi’s shop and sold to a rich collector, Sir John Boyd. 

Nowadays you can find it displayed in the British Museum.













 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Piranesi_Vase


Piranesi's visits to Tivoli resulted in some of his most "gothick" or "romantic" prints ...











































Piranesi … Day 25 …

Throughout the 1760s, Piranesi worked flat out … and ventured further out from Rome with his surveys … Lake Albano fills an old volcanic crater about 14 miles southeast from the city. 

The Emissario fed an 1800 metre aqueduct leading towards Castel Gandolfo.  The ambitious system of aqueducts and wells in the area is so complex that it wasn’t fully mapped and understood until the early part of the 20th century






















http://collections.soane.org/b4854

http://www.visitcastelliromani.it/it/castel-gandolfo/da-vedere/71-da-vedere-68/emissario-del-lago-albano

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Villa_of_Domitian#The_aqueducts


Piranesi … Day 26 …

By the late 1760s, Piranesi was diversifying into the decorating trade … displaying battered marble in his shop & knocking out volumes of designs for imaginary antiques and buildings … it was ideal source material for lesser designers and craftsmen to copy, perhaps.  

His taste for exotic ornamentation soon ran amok.  

The Romans seem to have loved every flourish but John Soane hated all this frivolity.


























An English visitor, around this time, described Piranesi in unflattering words ...








Walpole seems to have been kinder, and more perceptive ...









Piranesi … Day 27 …





















Piranesi produced two pseudo-Egyptian murals for The Caffe Degli Inglesi, which opened in 1769 in the Piazza di Spagne  … but that business disappeared within 20 years.

By this time, Robert Adam was back in England, completing a grand project for a dream customer and  synthesizing all of the ideas and imagery he’d absorbed in Rome … this lucid talk about Adam, by Dr Adriano Aymonino … is a must for serious students

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fl-DDrh5HsA

AN ASIDE ... NOT PIRANESI ... it is said that the facade of the Halls of Justice, built around 1837 next to the Tombs Prison in New York, was designed by someone who knew Piranesi's work ...









Piranesi … Day 28 … The Trophy or Magnificent Spiral Column


Piranesi … Day 29 …

Piranesi’s immense curiosity shirked no challenges.  From 1774 0nwards, he  excelled himself with his analytical measured drawings of Trajan’s Column.  He was not the first artist to attempt it.  I wish I knew how he made his measurements.



































































The clearest scans I could find on-line were made for the University of Complutense in Madrid.  Their joined-up sheets had been carefully separated during restoration and so their plates could then be scanned individually. http://dioscorides.ucm.es/proyecto_digitalizacion/index.php?b24392121






























Etc, etc ...


Piranesi also surveyed the Marcus Aurelius Column and the remnants of Antoninus’ Column …



















Wikipedia has an Italian page that shows the Trajan series in order with a complete transcription of Piranesi’s text  …

https://it.wikisource.org/wiki/Trofeo_o_sia_magnifica_colonna_.../1


Piranesi … Day 30 … The Colosseum … his 1776 version …










https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/360270

And an earlier view by Piranesi, from 1761









And some context … https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/secrets-of-the-colosseum-75827047/

https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2016/03/exotic-animals-ancient-rome/475704/


Piranesi … Day 31 …

In 1777, the year before he died, the workaholic Piranesi journeyed two hundred miles south, beyond Naples & Pompeii, to investigate and draw the Ancient Greek ruins at Paestum … 




















































Soon after that, in the very last year of Piranesi’s life, the young John Soane showed up in Rome, and they worked together for a little while, just as Piranesi and Adam once had. 

Professor John Wilton-Ely’s recent talk will be useful to British students … showing how Soane and Gandy later adapted strong elements of Piranesi’s presentational style to illustrate Soane’s massive Bank of England project in a surprising way.









https://youtu.be/WU8vMY_pIXU?list=PLClOHyWjukjZEGcmJ8k4ZS5OeKmdENuVk


one likes to imagine there might be a special kind of heaven for piranesi where his work can continue, even if it was only these little "ornaments" ... 





Throughout his life, Piranesi vigorously & vituperatively defended his views, even when there was no great need for controvery ... here he was having a go at a French antiquarian ...


I suppose that might have been Venetian humour ...