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 widely, 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).