Symposium | Piranesi, Rome, and the Arts of Design | Part 4





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Published on May 13, 2013

Symposium: Piranesi, Rome, and the Arts of Design

March 30, 2013

Jeffrey L. Collins, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of Academic Programs, Bard Graduate Center

More is More: Piranesi and Design
Giambattista Piranesi is best known today as a printmaker. Yet in his lifetime, he routinely signed his plates—and clearly wished to be known—as an architect, a profession that in the eighteenth-century often embraced interior decoration and furnishing. As an architect-designer, Piranesi "invented" not just buildings but chairs, tables, clocks, coaches, vases, candelabra, tablewares, chimneypieces, wall ornaments, and even complete rooms. Many feature in this exhibition, some on paper (where they largely remained) and some brought to life for the first time in three dimensions. In their eclecticism, visual density, and even whimsy, these exuberant modern designs may challenge our idea of Piranesi as a neoclassicist devoted solely to an image of ancient grandeur. But what were the sources and inspirations for Piranesi's ideas, and how do they relate to prevailing eighteenth-century tastes? This lecture places Piranesi's design work in its cultural and conceptual context, asking how this seemingly marginal activity exemplified the artist's broader concerns and constituted, albeit secondhand, a central part of his legacy.

John Pinto, Ph.D., Howard Crosby Butler Memorial Professor of Art and Archeology, Princeton University
Piranesi's "Speaking Ruins:" Fragment and Fantasy
Shortly after his first visit to Rome, Giovanni Battista Piranesi memorably wrote, "Speaking ruins have filled my spirit with images that accurate drawings could never have succeeded in conveying." Piranesi's appreciation of the expressive nature of ruins is telling. So, too, is the distinction he makes between experiencing ancient architecture directly, through on-site examination, on the one hand, and studying it at several removes by means of measured drawings, on the other. Piranesi provides a poetic distillation of over three centuries of reappraisals of the value and meaning of ruins for humanists, antiquarians, and architects. Professor Pinto's lecture will use Piranesi's graphic work to explore his virtuoso variations on the theme of the fragment, his analytic strategies, and his visionary engagement with the past. It was Piranesi's genius to bridge the gap between past and present, between source and invention, thereby breathing new life into the classical legacy.

Christopher M.S. Johns, Ph.D., Norman L. and Roselea J. Golberg, Professor and Chair of the Department of History of Art, Vanderbilt University
Piranesi and the Fabrication of Rome in the European Imagination: Le Vedute di Roma and Antichità Romane
The vast majority of Europeans who studied, collected and admired the graphic works of Giambattista Piranesi never saw Rome. This fabricated Rome inspired the European imaginary in a way that is difficult to understand in the modern age of imagery overload and instantaneous access to almost everything. But Piranesi's Rome was a reality in it own right, and only those relative few who actually visited the Eternal City during their Grand Tours could compare the artist's vision with diurnal reality. Indeed, not a few Roman visitors, conditioned by their study of Piranesi's imagery, were disappointed in the modest scale and shabby surroundings of some of the greatest monuments to survive from an admired antiquity. The Views of Rome and Roman Antiquities, two of the artist's most influential series of etchings, had an exceptionally high profile in Enlightenment Europe and form the basis for his vision of Roman magnificence. This lecture will explore the connection between word and image and between image in reality in Piranesi's influential series with the intention of shedding some light on the disconnection between the scholar's and the tourist's Rome in the middle decades of the eighteenth-century.


Video produced by Balboa Park Online Collaborative

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