By Anne Leader and Alexis Culotta 

Printmaker and designer Giovanni Battista Piranesi died on 9 November 1778 in Rome. Born on 4 October 1720 in Mogliano near Mestre, Piranesi grew to rapid acclaim for his prints of ancient and contemporary Rome and his series of imaginary prisons.

Relocating to Rome around 1740, Piranesi was afforded the opportunity to advance his skill under the tutelage of Giuseppe Vasi, an artist who had made his career on the success of his Grand Tour-oriented views of Rome. Piranesi became equally enamored with the motifs found in the Eternal City and thus soon after embarked on his own series of engravings that channeled both real and imagined aspects of the urban environment. 

Famous for these views, Piranesi was known as the greatest “vedutista” (view-maker) in Rome by midcentury. He began his popular series, Veduta di Roma (Views of Rome), in the late 1740s, which was around the same time that he also began work on his influential and inventive  Le Carceri d’Invenzione (The Imaginary Prisons) (1749-1750). One of his final series, Diversi manieri d’adornare… (Different Ways to Adorn…) (1769), reflected Piranesi’s ongoing contemplation of ancient and contemporary styles and his adherence to the need for novel and inventive approaches to design, an element that is sensed throughout his surviving body of work. 

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).

View of the Flavian Amphitheater known as the Colosseum, etching, 1776. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Elisha Whittelsey Fund, 1959, 59.570.426.

The Piazza del Popolo, etching, ca. 1750. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1937, 37.45.3(49).

The Round Tower, from Carceri d’invenzione (Imaginary Prisons), etching, engraving, sulphur tint or open bite, burnishing; first state of four, ca. 1749-50. New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1937, 37.45.3(27).

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