Giovanni Battista Piranesi was born in Mestre/Venice in 1720
and died in Rome in 1778. He was the most influential etcher
of the 18th century and produced more than 1,000 etchings.
Piranesi was the major artist in this medium between the times
of Rembrandt and Goya as well as a trained architect, archaeologist,
master designer and engraver. Piranesi's prints and drawings
reveal his talent for combining dramatic perspectives and
During his early years, he studied stage design and intricate
systems of perspective composition. His uncle, a designer
and hydraulics engineer, taught him the art of drawing. When
Piranesi was twenty he moved to Rome. For almost a year he
was an apprentice in the studio of Guiseppe Vasi, his later
colleague and rival, where he learned the art of engraving
copper plates. He also studied painting with Tiepolo and Pannini.
He began a careful study of the city's ancient monuments and
proceeded to etch inventive views of them as well as the modern
Roman structures, images that brought him great popularity.
His masterful art and good business sense proved fruitful,
for during the 18th century traveling became popular among
the educated classes of Europe. Travelers to city of Rome
discovered ancient treasures as well as Piranesi's renderings
of them in print. Their sheer size was impressive as they
were at least twice the size of his competitors’. The
tourists therefore liked to buy his prints as a reminder of
Later he began a series of etchings of fantastic prison interiors.
These imaginary prisons held a hypnotic fascination for later
Romantic writers, such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge and Edgar
Allen Poe. The Imaginary Prisons (Carceri) have always
been highly prized images.
In his next period, he created more than 200 views of Rome,
culminating in the magisterial Veduta di Roma, now
a collector's desire and increasingly rare. He then turned
his attention to archaeological works, including Le Antichità
Romane with similar works on Lake Albano, Cora and Pesto.
These were followed by his theoretical and polemical works,
including Della Magnificenza ed Architettura de Romani.
In his final prolific stage, he etched almost 200 decorative
antiquities, including his celebrated works on Cammini (chimneypieces)
and the Vasi, Candelabri.
He enjoyed tremendous success throughout his life, leaving
a legacy as one of the greatest etchers and printmakers in
history. After Piranesi's death at the age of 58, his son
Francesco took the plates to Paris and continued publishing
his father's work between the years 1800 and 1807.British
“Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings”
by John Wilton-Ely