Poetic Imaginings: Piranesi's Rome


exhibition Details

When we think of 18th century Rome, more often than not it is through the prints of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Trained in a stone masonry workshop that constructed the sea walls of Venice, he was also infused with a love of classical history by his brother Angelo, a Carthusian monk. Both architect and master etcher, Piranesi combined his knowledge and personal interests to create large-scale scenes of the city that became his home. His architectural eye for construction faithfully delineated the ruins of ancient Rome and the grand Baroque structures created in the century before he was born, illustrating his belief that the spaces in which society display themselves are ultimately 'framed' by architecture. His imagination allowed him to deconstruct ancient edifices on the one hand, while also etching imaginary structures of such colossal proportions that they seem designed for a world of giants. Lively theatrical figures that are a direct inheritance from the genius of Jacques Callot and Salvator Rosa measure and inspect edifices in many of his scenes, while tumbled traces of ruins became a fascinating playground over which his characters leap and scurry.

Rome in the eighteenth century was a polyglot city, bustling with tourists, both from within Italy, and from the wider reaches of Europe. They came to study the ruins of an ancient city bursting with examples of Baroque architecture alongside the ruins of a classical epoch matched only by that of ancient Greece. Piranesi's desire to transform Rome into a city matching its ancient glory encouraged a perception of it unimaginable before his day, giving a sense of wonder to connoisseurs and lay people alike. Furthermore, many of his prints are of a scale usually reserved for maps, which of course, at one level they are. While even those architectural recordings that he considered his most prosaic were applauded, overall it was his poetic flights of fancy that had a major impact of the European visual imagination, allowing people to create for themselves a sense of the ancient world of the Eternal City. Drawn from the Gallery's considerable holdings of Piranesi's etchings, this exhibition allows the spectator to also explore the artist's world of grand edifices, tumbling ruins and architectural inventions.

Curated by
Mary Kisler
Main Gallery
Free entry