Giovanni Battista Piranesi

4 October 1720 – 9 November 1778

One of Italy’s highest esteemed engravers and etchers of the 18th century

From his detailed etchings of Rome to the dark imaginings of his fictitious prisons, Piranesi is one of Italy’s most extraordinary artists.

Born in Mogliano Veneto near Treviso (then part of the Republic of Venice), Piranesi was the son of a Venetian stonemason. But it was his uncle, Matteo Lucchesi – a leading architect, who taught Piranesi to draw, and to design architectural structures.

In 1740, the young Piranesi travelled to Rome where he lived and worked for almost all his life.

From his detailed etchings of Rome to the dark imaginings of his fictitious prisons; Piranesi is one of Italy’s most extraordinary artists.

Born in Mogliano Veneto near Treviso (then part of the Republic of Venice), Piranesi was the son of a Venetian stonemason. But it was his uncle, Matteo Lucchesi – a leading architect, who taught Piranesi to draw, and to design architectural structures.

In 1740, the young Piranesi travelled to Rome where he lived and worked for almost all his life. His early career began working as a draughtsman for the Venetian ambassador Marco Foscarini.

While living in the Palazzo Venezia (the papal palace), Piranesi was tutored by the Italian engraver Giuseppe Vasi who introduced him to the art of etching and engraving of Rome and its monuments.

Inspired by his studies, Piranesi began creating the vedute (views) of Rome, for which he would become famous.

Piranesi briefly returned to Venice in 1744, planning to launch a career as an architect. When this plan failed, he returned to Rome in 1747, opening a workshop in Via del Corso where he established himself as an engraver and print publisher.

It was at this time that Rome had become one of the main destinations for visitors on the Grand Tour of Europe. The tourists wanted souvenirs and Piranesi was happy to oblige, offering prints of Renaissance Rome and its ruins.

Piranesi’s popularity grew quickly. And while he found fame from his detailed and atmospheric depictions of the Eternal City; he is equally well-known for his haunting imaginings of prison interiors, invented from his own mind.

Piranesi died in Rome in 1778 after a long illness. He was buried in the Santa Maria del Priorato, the church he had helped restore, in a tomb designed by the Italian sculptor Giuseppe Angelini.

In 1803, Joseph Bonaparte, Napoleon’s brother and King of Naples (from 1806-1808) and later the King of Spain (from 1808-1813), donated Piranesi’s original etchings to the Ghent library.

Piranesi loved to experiment and over the course of his work, he developed a range of innovative etching techniques, providing exquisite detail in his work. And although his prints are black and white, his clever use of light and texture brings great depth to his pictures.

This can be seen clearly in his series Le Vedute di Roma – a journey through the eternal city; a collection of views of Roman landmarks and vistas; intended as souvenirs for tourists. The collection is noted for its dramatic compositions and strong contrasts of light and shade.

Present-day Rome

Piranesi’s work shaped the European vision of present-day Rome and many of the Grand Tourists who visited Rome after seeing his prints were said to have been disappointed that the reality of the city didn’t live up to Piranesi’s artwork.

This collection includes 137 prints (135 by Piranesi, plus one from his son Francesco Piranesi, and a map of the city). In this collection, you’ll discover Piranesi’s interpretations of Rome’s best-loved views and landmarks including the Pantheon, the Colosseum, and the Pyramid of Cestius.

Own your own Piranesi giclée prints

This Piranesi collection gives you the opportunity to own prints created directly from the original editions of this renowned artist’s masterpieces.

Recreated in the original size, each one is printed using fine art digital printing processes, using the highest possible resolution, to create images that are identical to the originals.

With age-resistant white etching paper and archival ink; the prints are designed to resist fading for 100 years, giving you a lifetime of enjoyment from these extraordinary collections.

A complete set Le Vedute di Roma includes 138 giclée prints, two elegant handcrafted Solander boxes, 2 titles pages, two content pages and a Certificate of Authenticity.

Initially published anonymously in 1750, Piranesi reissued his collection of prison prints; Carceri d’Invenzione under his own name in 1761.

Dante’s epic poem Divina Commedia is often mentioned as a source of inspiration for Piranesi when he was imagining his dark and tortuous prison scenes.

Light, shade and spatial illusion

As with his city landscapes, Piranesi’s obsession with architecture and light and shade can be seen here. But the fictional settings allowed him to experiment further; bending perspective and spatial illusion to create images that are fascinating yet often bewildering to look upon.

With 16 black and white prints in the collection, evocative yet often chilling titles include The Man on the Rack and The Pier with Chains.

Own your own Piranesi giclée prints

Our Piranesi collection gives you the opportunity to own prints created directly from the original editions of this renowned artist’s masterpieces.

A complete set Carceri d’Invenzione includes 16 giclée prints, one title page, one content page, an alegant handcrafted Solander Box and a Certificate of Authenticity. 

Recreated in the original size, each one is printed using fine art digital printing processes, using the highest possible resolution, to create images that are identical to the originals.

With age-resistant white etching paper and archival ink; the prints are designed to resist fading for 100 years, giving you a lifetime of enjoyment from these extraordinary collections.