Piranesi, John Baptist

, a very celebrated architect and engraver, was a native of Venice, but resident for the greater part of his life at Rome. The time of his hirth is not known here, but it must have been about1711. He was remarkable for a bold and free style of etching; which, in general, he drew upon the plate at once, without any, or with very little previous sketch. He worked with such rapidity and diligence, that the magnitude and number of his plates almost exceed belief; and they are executed with a spirit and genius which are altogether peculiar to hi Ib. The earliest of his works appear to have been published in 1743, and consist of designs invented by himself, in a very grand style; with views of ruins, chiefly the work of imagination, and strongly characterizing the magnificence of his ideas. These are sometimes found in a volume, collected by Bourchard, in 1750: with views of Roman antiquities, not in Rome, among which are several of Pola, in Istria. The dedication to these views is dated 1748. Considering these as forming his first work, we may enumerate the rest from a catalogue print, published by himself many years after. 2. “Antichita Romane,” or Roman Antiquities, comprised in 218 plates of atlas paper, commencing by a topographical view of ancient Rome, made out from the fragments of a most curious antique plan of that city, found in the pavement of the temple of Romulus, and now preserved in the Museum at the Capitol. These, with the descriptions in Italian, form four volumes in folio. 3. “Fasti consulares triumphalesque Romanorum, ab urbe condita, usque ad Tiherium Csesarem.” 4. “Del Castello dell‘ acqua Giulia, e della maniera in cui anticamente si concedevano e distribuivano le acque,” 21 folio plates. 5. “Antichita d’Albano, e di Castel Gandolfo,” 55 plates. 6. “Campus Martins Antique urbis,” with descriptions in Italian and Latin, 54 plates. 7. “Arcbi trionfali antichi, Tempi, ed Anfiteatri, esistenti in Roma, ed in altre parti d’ltalia,” 31. plates. 8. “Tro.fei d’Ottaviano | Augusto,” &c. 10 plates. 0. “Delia Magnificenza ed Architettura de’ Romani,” 44 plates, with above 200 pages of letter- press, in Italian and Latin. This great work appears to have been occasioned, in great measure, by some dialogues published in London in 1755, but now forgotten here, and entitled, “The Investigator.” These, containing many foolish calumnies against the ancient Romans, had been interpreted to Piranesi, and inflamed his ardent spirit to this mode of vindication. 10. “Architetture diverse,” 27 plates. 11.“Carceri d’inventione,” 16 plates, full of the most wild, but picturesque conceptions. 12. About 130 separate views of Rome, in its present state; in the grandest style of design, and the boldest manner of etching. Besides these, there is also extant, in very few hands (as it was not published, but only given to particular friends), a small work of this author, containing letters of justification to lord Charlemont; in which he assigns the reasons why he did not dedicate his Roman antiquities to that nobleman, as had been intended. Piranesi here appears extremely irritated against his lordship, and his agents, for neglect and ill-treatment; but the most curious part of the work is, that he has taken the pains to etch, in a small quarto size, and with the utmost neatness, yet with all his accustomed freedom, exact copies of the four original frontispieces, in which the name of his intended patron was to hare been immortalized: with views of the inscriptions reengraved as they now stand; as if the first inscriptions had been cut out of the stones, and the new ones inserted on small pieces let into them, as the ancients sometimes practised. In this form they still remain in his frontispieces; a peculiarity which would not be understood without this key. There are also head-pieces and tail-pieces, all full of imagination, and alluding to the matters and persons involved in the dispute. This work is dated in 1757. Piranesi was well known to most of the English artists who Studied at Rome; among others, to Mr. Mylne, the architect of Blackfriars-bridge, with whom he corresponded for several years, and for whom he engraved a fine view of that structure, in its unfinished state; representing, with precision, the parts subservient to its construction; such as the centres of the arches, &c. for the sake of preserving a memorial of them. Some of his works are dedicated to another British architect, Robert Adam; and as Piranesi was an honorary member of the Society of Antiquaries in, | London, he always carefully subjoined that title to his name. He was also a member of the academy of the Arcadi, by the name of Salcindio Tiseio. as he has given it in one of his frontispieces, according to the fantastic custom of that society, of giving new names to the persons admitted. All who knew him agree that he was of a fiery and impetuous temper, but full of genius. He left a son, who has been employed in a diplomatic line. The exact time of his death we have not been able to learn; but it is supposed to have happened in or near the year 1780*. Pijanesi has been accused, and not without reason, of suffering his imagination to embellish even the designs that were given as real views. He was employed, as an architect, to ornament a part of the priory of Malta, in Rome; in which place his son has erected a statue of him. It is thus mentioned by baron Stolberg, in his Travels: “Here is a fine statue of the architect Piranesi, as large as life, placed there by his son. It is the work of the living artist Angolini; and though it certainly cannot be compared with the best antiques, it still possesses real merit.” His portrait, engraved by Polanzani, in 1750, is in the style of a mutilated statue, and is very spirited. It is prefixed to some of his works. 1


From last edition of this Dictionary. —Dict. Hist.