Carceri d’Invenzione di G. Battista Piranesi Archit. Vene
1 fol. album, complete suite of 16 plates (etching and burin) from the second edition with proofs of the third and fourth issues (1760-1770) on laid paper, with the new work to darken certain backgrounds and details, but before the number added by Firmin-Didot around 1835-1840. The prints are mitre-mounted, some margins are of irregular width as they are trimmed to fit the volume. Hardback, marbled paper boards, vellum spine with gilt title (faded).
375 x 500 mm.
Old traces of cleaning, scattered light foxing, light dusting, occasional small accidents and restorations.
The collection is bound in the following order:
Giovanni Battista Piranesi was born near Venice in 1720. As a young artist trained in the discipline of Vitruvius and Palladio, and filled with admiration for antiquity, Piranesi accompanied the Venetian ambassador to the Holy See in 1740 as a "draughtsman". He was then able to study the monuments and remains that had nourished his education from life. With the multidisciplinary education he had received, he collaborated for a time with the brothers Domenico (17..-1771) and Giuseppe Valeriani (1708-1762), famous theatre decorators, putting into practice his talents as a draughtsman and architect. Around 1742 he frequented the workshop of one of the most important engravers in Italy, Giuseppe Agostino Vasi (1710-1782), under whose guidance he participated in the edition of the Vedute di Roma sul Tevere and perfected his technique as an aquafortist. In 1743, he took part in another major publishing venture: the reduction of the famous Nuova Topografia di Roma, based on Giovanni Battista Nolli's surveys, the first map of the city to be executed using modern scientific criteria.
A few years later, he embarked on the creation of the Carceri d'Invenzione, a series of fourteen plates in which the artist developed 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. From the Prima parte to the Carceri, we can observe a form of awareness in Piranesi, who seems to have grasped that engraving can claim a role other than that of impersonal servant of architecture, whose works it reproduces and disseminates, to assert itself as a complete art that is sufficient in itself and can express everything. The plates of the Prima parte were a little dry: it is still the beautiful monotonous rigidity of the architectural engravers. In the Carceri, on the other hand, the artist gives an unprecedented suppleness to his engraved drawing, which he learns to colour vigorously by means of deep bites. The fact remains that the inventor of the Prisons owes much to theatrical decoration. Moreover, as in the plates of the Prima parte and the great later prints, the skill of the layout, the composition and the effects of light are the manner of a theatrical decorator who knows how to use and enlarge his frame through the illusion of perspective. It was probably in the early 1760s that Piranesi took up his Carceri again and gave them their definitive form: the luminous Venetian notebook, executed with a somewhat loose frankness, disappeared under the overpainting and became saturated with biting effects. Although it has lost the fire of the first, this second version is much more elaborate. 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.
Bibliothèque de l'Institut de France, Le Carceri d'Invenzione in Piranèse: un rêve de pierre et d'encre