By Anne Leader and Martina Bollini

According to an early biographer, Giovanni Battista Piranesi made this statement that encapsulates his ambition as a printmaker, architect, and antiquarian. Piranesi, famous for his views of Rome and architectural fantasies, died on 9 November 1778.

Although he only completed one work, the renovation of the church Santa Maria del Priorato (1764-1766), Piranesi held his own when compared to other architects. Piranesi certainly considered himself to be one, as shown in the print made by Francesco Polenzani after Piranesi’s self-portrait. Stating at the same time his passion for classical antiquity and his aspiration to be regarded as a “Venetian architect,” the artist depicted himself in imitation of an antique bust, half-man and half-statue, surrounded by a halo of fire and flames.

Throughout his life, Piranesi illustrated architectonic ideas through etching, unparalleled in its technical mastery. He largely drew inspiration from Rome, “a living system of ruins,” designing visionary and dramatic images that assembled topographical reproductions of ancient and modern buildings and ideal reconstructions. Piranesi adopted original compositional devices, exaggerating scale and manipulating perspective through the use of multiple vanishing points. Since their publication, Piranesi’s prints have provided inspiration for generations of architects, writers, and designers.

Reference: John Wilton-Ely. “Piranesi, Giovanni Battista.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. .

Further reading: Piranesi the Complete Etchings by Luigi Ficacci (2001).

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, The Octagonal Room in the Small Baths at the Villa of Hadrian (Tivoli), ca. 1777. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Francesco Polanzani, Portrait of G.B. Piranesi in imitation of an antique bust, from Opere varie di Architettura, prospetive, grotteschi, antichità; inventate, ed incise da Giambattista Piranesi Architetto Veneziano (Various Works of Architecture, perspectives, grotesques, and antiquities, designed and etched by Giambattista Piranesi, Venetian architect), 1750,  New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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