Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 Mogliano Veneto – Rome 1778)

Venice: The first 20 years, 1720 - 1740

G.B. Piranesi was born October 4th, 1720 in Mogliano nearby Mestre as the son of a stonemason. He was trained in architecture at the 'Magistrato delle Acque' in Venice. His brother Angelo, a Carthusian monk, teached him Roman history and the Latin language.

First he came to Rome, 1740-44, as a draughtsman with the entourage of Marco Foscarini, a historiograph of the Republic of Venice and ambassador at the Holy See. After a short stay in Venice, 1744, he came back to Rome 1745, this time as an assistant of the engraver and publisher Giuseppe Wagner, and he founded his own studio in the Via del Corso, vis-à-vis of the Palazzo Moncini - seat of the French Academy in Rome.

Rome: The first series of etchings, 1745-61

1748 the first edition of his 'Archi Trionfali' was published under the title 'Antichità Romane de' Tempi della Repubblica e de' Primi Imperatori', 1765 re-edited as 'Alcune Vedute di Archi Trionfali'. The 30 views of ancient buildings in Italy and Rome were made after sketches he did during his journey around Italy 1743-45, when he visited Pola, Verona, Rimini, and Ancona.

For the next generation of his views he chose a larger size. In his series 'Vedute di Roma', for which he made 135 plates in 30 years, he uniquely records the significance of the buildings of the ancient and baroque world in and around Rome. The etchings and copper engravings of the 'Vedute di Roma' are a central but only small part of his complete work, which consists of more than one thousand single etchings. 1751 Giovanni Jean Bouchard published the first 34 views of this series under the title 'Le Magnificenze di Roma'.

In 1752 Piranesi married Angela Pasquini. Their daughter Laura was born 1755, and the eldest son Francesco 1758/59.

In 1756 Piranesi published, to help to rescue the ancient buildings of Rome, the 'Antichità Romane', which founded his international reputation as an archaeologist. 1757 he became a member of the 'London Society of Antiquaries'. After that he was busy with making some more etchings for his 'Vedute di Roma', which were published by Bouchard & Gravier from 1756 till 1761.

Rome: At the height of his fame, 1761-69

Piranesi now has reached the hight of his fame. He became a member of the Roman academy S. Lucia and his success in business, supported by pope Clemens XIII - who came from Venice and admired very much Piranesi's works of art, enabled him to establish his own publishing house. 1761 he moved with his family and his studio into the Palazzo Tomati, at the Via Sistina, under which name he traded from now on. One of the first plates with the new address 'presso l'autore nel Palazzo Tomati' was his famous view of the Pantheon (Hind 60).

In the same year he re-issued his 'Carceri' and for the first time he published a detailed and complete catalogue of his etchings, which also contains the first 59 views of the 'Vedute di Roma'.

Piranesi continued to study the ancient Roman and Etruscan buildings, the Roman water supply system or the water level regulation system of the Alban Lake and he made many excursions to the Roman Campagna. The results of his studies he published in his works of art as the 'Della Magnificenza ed Architettura de' Romani' and the 'Campus Martius' (1761/62). His etchings of the 'Antichità d'Albano e di Castel Gandolfo', which were published 1764, he made by order of the pope. 1765 he re-edited the 'Archi Trionfali'.

1765 Piranesi obtained two contracts as an architect: First to finish the rebuilding of the nave of the Basilica of St John Lateran and second to convert the church S. Maria del Priorato on the Aventine Hill.

1766 Piranesi got the order of the golden spur by pope Clemens XIII and from that time on he mostly signed his etchings with 'Cavalier Piranesi F.'.

Rome: The later years, 1770-78

During the sixties and seventies the number of the customers, who collected his etchings, grew up continuously all over Europe. For his 'Vedute di Roma' he made about 40 new etchings during this time.

Piranesi's last great series of views dealt with the Greek temples at Paestum. 1777/78 he went there together with his son Francesco and Benetto Moris, the specialist for architecture in his company, to make drawings of all three temples of Paestum. Even in the same year a series of 20 views was made, finished and published by Francesco Piranesi 1779.

G.B. Piranesi died November 9, 1778 and was buried at S. Maria del Priorato. The statue on his grave was made by Giuseppe Angelini and shows Piranesi in an ancient dress holding the signs of an architekt and graphic artist.


Brettagno, A. (ed.): "Piranesi: Incisioni - Rami - Legature - Architetture", Neri Pozza, Venice 1978.

Fiacci, L.: "Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings", Taschen 2000.

Focillon, H.: "Giovanni Battista Piranesi, 1720 - 1778", Paris 1918.

Giesecke, A.: "Giovanni Battista Piranesi", Meister der Graphik, vol. IV, Leipzig 1911.

Hind, A. "Giovanni Battista Piranesi: A Critical Study with a List of the Published Works", The Holland Press, London, 1922.

Robinson, A.: "The 'Veduti di Roma' of Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Notes towards a revision of Hind's catalogue", Nouvelles de l'estampe, No 4, 1970.

Wilton-Ely, J.: "Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Vision und Werk", Hirmer Verlag, Munich 1978.