Diverse Manieri is a series of 67 etchings and engravings of Piranesi’s sources and adaptations of ancient classical motifs — including Egyptian — for 18th-century neoclassical architecture and decorative arts, especially chimneypieces. The full title translates as: “Diverse ways of ornamenting chimneypieces and all other parts of houses suggested by Egyptian, Etruscan, and Grecian architecture, with an apologia in defense of the Egyptian and Tuscan architecture, the work of Giambattista Piranesi, Esquire.”
According to Wilton-Ely, Piranesi’s goal was to “establish a modern system of design” from ancient sources and “a study of nature.” Wilton-Ely describes the broad range of Diverse Manieri:
“The wide applicability of Piranesi’s system is…exemplified by well over 100 separate items of furniture and decorative design, in addition to those appearing in the chimneypiece plates, hinting at the total decorative schemes envisaged. The illustrated pieces include 6 commodes, 10 tables, 3 tripod stands, 4 chairs, 2 pairs of shutters, 2 candelabra, 2 candlestands, 12 candlesticks, 3 sconces, 23 clocks, 12 vases or urns, 12 tea or coffee pots, various portions of beading and moldings and the woodwork of 6 coaches and 12 sedan chairs.”
The designs for chimneypieces incorporating motifs of Egyptian art are unusual, since most of Piranesi’s work focused on ancient Roman artifacts. At the time, the chimneypiece was an important aspect of English neoclassical architecture. John Wilton-Ely notes that since the chimneypiece was not used in ancient Egypt, Piranesi’s adaptions for use in 18th-century architecture “effectively demonstrate the imaginative application of the past to a strictly contemporary requirement” (Wilton-Ely, p. 887). For example, one of the prints of a chimney piece (Wilton-Ely 846) incorporates the following Egyptian motifs: lotus leaf capitals, obelisks with hieroglyphics, sphinxes, etc.
Giovanni Battista Piranesi was a multi-talented and accomplished man of the enlightenment who combined supreme artistic ability and historical scholarship with an entrepreneurial business sense. He was at once an artist, architect, archeologist, designer, collector, and print and antiquities dealer. Many consider him one of the most influential artists in the development and popularization of the neoclassical style in the second half of the 18th century. According to scholar John Wilton-Ely, the distinguishing characteristics of Piranesi’s early works were “the unorthodox combination of classical motifs, the manipulation of superhuman scale, the organization of powerfully receding perspectives upon diagonal axes, and the modulation of space by means of skilful lighting.” Piranesi’s work was recognized with his election as a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries in England in 1757. He was knighted by the Pope in 1765. Although Piranesi composed and etched many of his works, his son Francesco (1758-1810) and studio assistants such as Vincenzo Dolcibene also etched a significant number of the prints, especially in later years.
Piranesi etched and published numerous folio print sets of art, architecture and archaeology of Rome and environs that served as source material for other architects and designers. They were sold as souvenirs to English aristocrats on the Grand Tour in Italy or by subscription directly to British patrons. Among those influenced by Piranesi was the great British architect Robert Adam (1728-92), who was a colleague of his while in Rome on the Grand Tour in the 1750s. From the 1760s onward, Piranesi supplemented his printing business by joining the thriving trade in the restoration and sale antiquities to Grand Tour travelers. Piranesi’s interest in these objects went well beyond historical restoration and marketing — he also advocated emulating the creativity of the Roman designers and integrating motifs from Greek and Roman antiquities with a contemporary sensibility to produce new and strikingly original works. The British were particularly good customers, so he set up his workshop and showrooms close to the British quarter of Rome. After Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s death in 1778, Francesco and another son, Pietro, continued to republish Piranesi prints and sell antiquities.
Condition: Each generally very good with the usual overall light toning and wear. Platemark and sheet sizes vary, as issued. Some paper tones vary. Some with minor professionally repaired short marginal tears, or minor marginal staining.
Hind, Arthur M. Giovanni Battista Piranesi : A Critical Study with a List of His Published Works and Detailed Catalogues of the Prisons and the Views of Rome. London: The Cotswold Gallery, 1922. pp. 86 (Diverse Manieri), 87 (Vasi).
Wilton-Ely, John. Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings. San Francisco: Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1994. 2 volumes. Chapter F.II. Volume II. pp. 886-960, numbers 815-887 (Diverse Manieri); pp. 961-62, numbers 888-1005 (Vasi).