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The book  “Le Vedute…”

The book “Le Vedute…”

This morning, walking through Saint-Sulpice, whose simple architectural vault delights me; to be in architecture…. Roland Barthes, Mourning Diary

GijsWallis de Vries wrote an admirable book about the Rome of Piranesi, the famous 18th century etching artist and architect. Piranesi, Le Vedute di Roma – A Journey through the Eternal City. * The Rome of Piranesi taken very literally. Not just in the meaning of a city in which he lived. In a sheer endless series of images, Piranesi recreated the City of Cities. The book contains about a 140 reproductions of Le Vedute di Roma, provided by the publisher by means of a newly created facsimile of each of the etchings. The result is visual splendor. In reproduced etching, sections are often too dark, however, not here. That way, a beautiful tonality provides the cool presentation by Wallis de Vries of Piranesi’s magistral representation of The Eternal City. If something becomes clear in – or better even, thanks to the work of Piranesi, it is how paradoxal the expression ‘eternal city’ is.


Piranesi’s work – not just this Vedute, but all of his etching collections, understood as Gesamtkunstwerk – show Rome in her decay, in her transformation and in her renewal. After all ‘eternal’ only seems to relate to the city name. The reality of the images invokes the sic transit gloria mundi feeling in the reader… On the frontispiece, the title of Piranesi’s collection of etchings is chiseled in a skewed piece of rock, that is also ruinous at the tom. By doing this, he placed his own work in the context of a transience it shares with the ruins depicted by him. However, Wallis de Vries makes clear that there also is a dialog in the etchings, a melodic counterpoint of elegy and hope: after all, Piranesi is all about a new Rome. This is evident from several critical ‘comments’ in the etchings on the careless way the 18th century municipality handled the ruins, the roads and the hygiene. It seems that Piranesi tells us that that which he has depicted, will hopefully look better and differently in

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<table> <tbody> <tr> <td width="520"> <p><span style="font-size: large; font-family: 'book antiqua', palatino;">the future. Wallis de Vries adds that the etching artist would probably not have approved of Rome’s sterile ‘restoration’ of today. It is a significant book, not just literally in a folio binding, but figuratively as well – as an elegant coat rack which History can use to hang her coats and smaller coats from. It is Wallis de Vries that helps Muse Clio out of her clothes. The poetic wisdom of the author, combined with extensive detailed knowledge of matters, makes that – thanks to the accompanying text with every etching – the viewer sees something that he would otherwise never see and that he thinks in previously unprecedented directions. Call the etchings Ansichten. After all, many of those were made with the expectation that a chic tourist would buy one or more of those – as souvenir to his Grand Tour. But in addition to a view, every etching of Piranesi also mainly is an insight and a vista. With the comment of Wallis de Vries in mind, you’ll slowly learn to view things from the Piranesi perspective. You’ll discover how it achieves astounding effects with subtle changes in perspective. But mainly, you’ll have more respect for his skills, that grew over the years. How can it be possible to show so much at so little square decimeters! In a print of Obelisco Egizio, Gijs Wallis de Vries writes about the ‘studied nonchalance’, the sprezzatura of the humanists from the Renaissance. Piranesi would have been able to identify himself with that. The etching artist lived during the second half of the 18th century, a period in which genteel ‘naturalness’ characterized the higher and art circles. Think Rousseau, think Boswell, that wrote the following in a letter to a lady: <span style="font-size: large; font-family: 'book antiqua', palatino;">. </span></em></p> </td> <td><hr style="height: 3px; width: 30px;" size="3" width="30" /></td> <td width="520"><span style="font-size: large; font-family: 'book antiqua', palatino;"><span>“What I gave you was natural. It was neither spice nor perfume. It was fresh from the dairy. It was curds and cream. [] I had assumed the characters of others whom I admired, but I found them by much too heavy for me,[] unable to move with freedom. [I want]] to speak with that honest frankness with which I declare my sentiments on great and on small occasions’, like for instance judging the quality of a simple tart.” It maybe worthwhile to ask about the difference between the Renaissance sprezzatura and this genteel naturalness in the second half of the 18th century. The latter attitude can be referred to as obviously paradoxical, yes, even as hypocritical. After all, those who consider their image of ‘ naturalness’ in advance, can never be ‘natural’. You can’t blame a Renaissance humanist for something like that, even if Wallis de Vries calls his nonchalance ‘studies’. In his etchings, Piranesi appears to pursue empirical honesty – critical and enthusiast truth. He shows how beautiful the past has literally been embedded in Rome’s territory – at the same time, he shows how it could be done better. The humanist was mainly concerned with true observation of nature, of the environment as he found it – not about an ‘honest’ image of himself, as was the case with Boswell cum suis. In this respect, Piranesi may have been of his time and well ahead of it in a fortunate way. Lets hope that the dissertation on which Wallis de Vries graduated in 1990 – Piranesi and the idea of a beautiful city – will soon be released in her rewritten form and will be published as beautifully as this book. * Gijs Wallis de Vries, Piranesi Le Vedute di Roma – A Journey through the Eternal City. Compiled and published in 2012 by Gies Pluim, Heritage Editions, Art in Limited Editions B.V. Sierksma, 11.1/2013 </span></span></td> </tr> </tbody> </table>
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