- When I saw in Rome how most of the remains of ancient buildings lay scattered through gardens and ploughed fields where they dwindled day by day. . .I resolved to preserve them by means of engravings. I have therefore drawn these ruins with all possible exquisiteness.
A Veneto-born architect, antiquarian, and printmaker, Piranesi is widely acknowledged as one of the premiere chroniclers of the city of Rome. He was also a key figure in promoting the study of Roman achievements in architecture during the eighteenth century. The son of a stone mason and master builder, Piranesi was trained in architecture, engineering, etching, and painting in Venice. He first visited Rome in 1740, serving as draftsman for the Venetian ambassador. After a short period in Venice, he returned to Rome in 1745, remaining there until his death in 1778.
Piranesi created over 1,000 individual etchings, including several series of vedute (scenic landscape views), as well as detailed studies of the complex engineering underneath the city, and imagined architectural spaces, such as his famed series of Carceri (Prisons)
His work combines the detailed accuracy of the antiquarian concerned with preservation and the inventive powers of the artist who wishes to reinforce the awe and grandeur of an imaginary scene. It is this dichotomy that made Piranesi the consummate chronicler of Rome and fueled sustained interest in his work over the centuries.
Image: Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Italian, 1720–1778. Pantheon Exterior from Vedute di Roma, 1748–80. Etching. Yale University Art Gallery. The Arthur Ross Collection. 2012.159.11.60