Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Italian (1720 -
An Italian etcher, archaeologist, designer, theorist, and architect,
Giovanni Battista Piranesi was born in Venice. His uncle, a
designer and hydraulics engineer, taught him the art of drawing.
During his early years, he studied stage design and intricate
systems of perspective composition. Piranesi's prints and drawings
reveal his talent for combining dramatic perspectives and architectural
When Piranesi was twenty, he moved to Rome and began a careful
study of the city's ancient monuments. He began etching inventive
views of ancient ruins and modern Roman structures, images that
brought him great popularity, and later began a series of etchings
of fantastic prison interiors. During his fifties, Piranesi's
interest in archaeology took him to southern Italy, where he
produced drawings and etchings of Greek architecture. During
an expedition, ill health forced him to return to Rome, where
he died at the age of fifty-eight.
Piranesi's highly original designs and ideas influenced many
artists and literary figures during and beyond his lifetime.
Neo-classical designers and early Romantic writers were quick
to recognize his eclectic vision. Piranesi's extensive artistic
output was widely dispersed through prints sold to Grand Tourists,
who often visited his flourishing workshop. His prints were
reproduced in great numbers, even after his death.