Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) better known as simply Piranesi was an Italian etcher, archaeologist, designer, theorist, and architect. He was born in Venice. His uncle, a designer and hydraulics engineer, taught him to draw and spend much time with him doing just so. During his early years, he studied stage design and systems of perspective composition. Piranesi’s prints and drawings are wonderful in their showcase of his ability for combining both dramatic perspectives and architectural fantasies.
When Piranesi was twenty years of age, he relocated to Rome and began a careful, scientific study of the city’s ancient monuments. He began by etching inventive and imaginative views of ancient ruins and modern Roman structures. These images brought him great popularity during the course of his lifetime. Later, he began a series of etchings of fantastical prison interiors. During his midlife, Piranesi’s interest in archaeology took him to southern Italy, where he produced drawings and etchings of Greek architecture. During one of these expeditions, ill health forced him to return to Rome, where he died at the age of fifty-eight.
Piranesi’s highly original designs and ideas influenced many artists and literary figures during and beyond his lifetime. Neo-classical designers and early Romantic writers were quick to recognize his eclectic vision. Piranesi’s extensive artistic output was dispersed widely through prints sold to Grand Tour Tourists, who were often visiting his flourishing workshop. His prints were reproduced in great numbers, even after his death and still today
“I need to produce great ideas, and I believe that if I were commissioned to design a new universe, I would be mad enough to undertake it.”
-Giovanni Battista Piranesi
Warm Thanks to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Getty Museum, The British Museum, Web Gallery of Art, RISD Museum