At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Giovanni Battista Piranesi – artist

Genius who put 18th century Rome on the map


Pietro Labruzzi's portrait of Piranesi, thought to have been painted a year after his death
Pietro Labruzzi's portrait of Piranesi, thought
to have been painted a year after his death
Draftsman, printmaker and architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi was born on this day in 1720 in Mogliano Veneto near Treviso in the Veneto.

He became famous for his large prints depicting the buildings of Rome, which stimulated interest in Rome and inspired the neoclassical movement in art in the 18th century.

Piranesi went to Rome to work as a draftsman for the Venetian ambassador when he was 20. There he studied with some of the leading printmakers of the day.

It was during this period that he developed his own, original etching technique, producing rich textures and bold contrasts of light and shadow by means of intricate, repeated bitings of the copperplate.

Among his finest early prints are the Prisons - Carceri - imaginary scenes depicting ancient Roman ruins, which are converted into fantastic dungeons filled with scaffolding and instruments of torture.

Piranesi later opened a workshop in Via del Corso and created the series of vedute - views - of Rome that established his fame.

Piranesi's etching of the Castel Sant'Angelo in Rome
Piranesi's etching of the Castel
 Sant'Angelo in Rome
Among his best mature prints are the series Roman Antiquities (Le antichita romane), Views of Rome (Vedute di Roma) and views of the Greek temples at Paestum.

His accuracy, his technical mastery and his depiction of the dramatic and romantic nature of the structures has made these prints the most original and impressive representations to be found in western art.

He was able to  replicate faithfully the actual remains, provide the missing parts and introduce groups of vases, altars and tombs that were absent in reality.

Many of his prints of Rome were collected by gentleman visiting the city as part of the Grand Tour. His precise observational skills allow people today to experience the atmosphere of Rome as it was in the 18th century, as many of the monuments and decorative details of the buildings he depicted have since disappeared, sometimes having been stolen.

Piranesi was also commissioned to restore the church of Santa Maria del Priorato in the Villa of the Knights of Malta on Rome’s Aventine Hill. He used ancient architectural elements in marble and stone for the façade of the church.

After his death in 1778, he was buried in a tomb inside Santa Priorato, the church he had helped to restore.

The Piazza Caduti in Mogliano Veneto
The Piazza Caduti in Mogliano Veneto
Travel tip:

Mogliano Veneto, where Piranesi was born, is a town in the province of Treviso, about halfway between Mestre and Treviso. It is particularly known for its medieval festival that takes place in the town every year in September. It is a stop on the Venice to Udine railway line and has regular services to Venice, Treviso, Udine and Trieste.

The church of Santa Maria del Priorato on Rome's Aventine Hill
The church of Santa Maria del Priorato on
Rome's Aventine Hill
Travel tip:

The church of Santa Maria del Priorato, where Piranesi is buried, is on the Aventine Hill, the most southern of Rome’s seven hills, which is now an elegant residential part of Rome. The original church was built in 939 but between 1764 and 1766 it was renovated by Piranesi and the Piazza dei Cavaliere di Malta was built in front of the church according to his design. The decorative façade of the church was designed by Piranesi to include emblems and references to the military and naval associations of the Knights of Malta. The way in which they are represented indicates Piranesi’s fascination with Rome’s ancient past.




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