Home » Exhibitions » Exhibition Review – Piranesi drawings: visions of antiquity at the British Museum from 20 Feb 2020 to 9 Aug 2020

Exhibition Review – Piranesi drawings: visions of antiquity at the British Museum from 20 Feb 2020 to 9 Aug 2020


The British Museum celebrates the 300th anniversary of Piranesi’s birth in 1720 with an exhibition that includes the Museum’s complete collection of his drawings, all the work of the Piranesi himself.

Neoclassicist printmaker Giovanni Battista Piranesi is best known for his grand depictions of ancient Rome, his recordings of the newly-discovered ruins of Pompeii and displaying his celebrated Carceri (‘Prisons’) series.

Piranesi was born in Venice and raised in Rome, from 1740, he worked in Rome as a draughtsman for Marco Foscarini, the Venetian ambassador of the new Pope Benedict XIV. He often returned to Venice where he was friendly with Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, a leading artist in the city.

In 1748–1774 he created a long series of drawings of the city which established his fame. Piranesi devoted himself to the measurement of many of the ancient ruins and this led to the publication of “Roman Antiquities of the Time of the First Republic and the First Emperors”.

It is the work of Piranesi as a draughtsman, that is the focus of the exhibition and offers viewers the opportunity to scrutinise the drawings in close detail. Within the drawings, Piranesi manages to engender a poetic aspect of the ruins, whilst providing an accurate representation. A number of the views depict human figures whose poverty and human frailties appear to suggest not only the decay of the ruins but of human existence.

These views of antiquity, not only provided a visual record of ruins that often disappeared over time but provided Piranesi with a source of income. Increasingly, these types of views were becoming popular with those on the Grand Tour, Rome became an intellectual capital of Europe and Piranesi catered for these ‘tourists’ with his own print workshop and museum of antiquities.

This fascinating small free exhibition provides some insight into the world of Giovanni Battista Piranesi who provides a record of ancient Rome with the creative ability to make the buildings and geometry come alive. This mix of fantasy and reality was popular amongst a new type of collector who enjoyed the bringing together of the modern and ancient worlds.

Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended 

For more information and tickets, visit the British Museum website here

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