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This outsanding folio etching is from Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s Carceri dInvenzione. The work was published between 1749 and 1770. This etching was part of a second edition publication that included proofs of the third and fourth issues. The etchings were completed with engraving and dry point and are mitre-mounted on laid paper, and the edition darkened certain backgrounds and details but was before the numbers were added in 1835. These darker etchings (which were reworked by Piranesi himself) are a superior presentation that truly give depth to his creation. Piranesi’s etchings exhibit remarkable techincal skill and artistic vision.
Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) is known as one of the most famous architectural artists of all times. Born in Venice and later settled in Rome, the young Piranesi first aspired to be an architect. After having little luck in his studied field, he turned instead to the art of architecture. His work masterfully used light and space to create depth and detail in his exceptional work. “No other author [artist] before or since was capable of visions of grandeur that could so excite and inspire the enthusiast.” (Scott, Piranesi, 1975, p.127) “Giovanni Battista Piranesi is said to have declared, ‘I need to produce great ideas, and I believe that if I were commissioned to design a new universe, I would be mad enough to undertake it.’ With his Carceri dInvenzione, the artist did just that, illustrating an imaginary prison that still inspires authors and architects today.” (Sothebys 2018)
“… [Piranesi] embarked on the creation of the Carceri d’Invenzione by developing the theme exploited in the plate ‘Carcera oscura’ of the Prima parte and displayed all the dark magnificence of his painting skills. Although it does not come from any iconographic tradition, the theme has a known starting point: it is the decor created by the architect and ornamentation specialist Daniel Marot for the opera La Prison d’Amadis, but, under Piranesi’s burin, the variations that follow, amplified, give rise to striking fictions marked by unease in which a very personal and shady genius is expressed. Unparalleled in the iconographic production of the time, this is a dream of stone where human figures, wandering or tortured, seem to be present only to animate indefinite spaces without scale. The technique is surprisingly free, the gesture ample and light. In contact with Tiepolo, whose engraved work, although confidential, is particularly prized by amateurs, Piranesi undoubtedly learnt that one could handle the point like the pen of a draughtsman improvising, using the acid bites like a palette. … In addition to the light drawings of the first edition, the plates of the second are energetic and nuanced like painted works, so that Piranesi gives the motifs a new colossal power and a frightening solemnity. From one edition to the next, we move from the stage set to the drama.” (Pingel; Bibliothèque de l’Institut de France, Le Carceri d’Invenzione in Piranèse: un rêve de pierre et d’encre)