Antico vaso di marmoro by Giovanni Battista Piranesi


Large etching of a classical vase made by Cavalier Giovanni Battista Piranesi. The print is subtitled “Al signor Thomasso Moore”. The image is 66 x 26 cm large (excluding text). The print is professionally framed. Total dimensions 104 x 69 cm. Condition of the item is good.

Best known for his representations of on the archaeological reconstructions of ruins and the documentation of contemporary Rome, Piranesi also made a fundamental contribution to the development of the decorative arts. The “Vasi” is one of the most important of his works related to his own interests as a restorer and dealer in antiquities, and which had a great influence on interior decoration, and industrial production of ceramics, etc. This was an aspect of Piranesi’s work on which he relied more extensively after the death of his major patron, Clement XIII Rezzonico. Many of the plates illustrate objects made of ancient Roman marbles that could be inspected at his Museo in the Palazzo Tomati where his engraving business and his home were both located. The integration of ancient sculptural fragments into his restored objects allowed for flights of fancy that were very influential on younger architects such as Percier and Fontaine, who made there mark as architects for Napoleon. The plates were issued as individual plates from 1768, first appearing in bound form in 1778 as ‘Vasi Candelabri Cippi Sarcofagi’, probably compiled by Francesco Piranesi following his father’s death. This set comprises Vasi antichi di marmo, Vaso inerario, Vasi Signor Corbet and Vasi Carmathen.

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Giovanni Battista (or Giambattista) Piranesi; also known as simply Piranesi; 4 October 1720 – 9 November 1778) was an Italian artist famous for his etchings of Rome and of fictitious and atmospheric “prisons” (Le Carceri d’Invenzione). He was the father of Francesco Piranesi and Laura Piranesi. Piranesi was born in Mogliano Veneto, near Treviso, then part of the Republic of Venice. His father was a stonemason. His brother Andrea introduced him to Latin language and the ancient civilization, and later he was apprenticed under his uncle, Matteo Lucchesi, who was a leading architect in Magistrato delle Acque, the state organization responsible for engineering and restoring historical buildings. From 1740, he had an opportunity to work in Rome as a draughtsman for Marco Foscarini, the Venetian ambassador of the new Pope Benedict XIV. He resided in the Palazzo Venezia and studied under Giuseppe Vasi, who introduced him to the art of etching and engraving of the city and its monuments. Giuseppe Vasi found Piranesi’s talent was beyond engraving. According to Legrand, Vasi told Piranesi that “you are too much of a painter, my friend, to be an engraver.” After his studies with Vasi, he collaborated with pupils of the French Academy in Rome to produce a series of vedute (views) of the city; his first work was Prima parte di Architettura e Prospettive (1743), followed in 1745 by Varie Vedute di Roma Antica e Moderna. From 1743 to 1747 he sojourned mainly in Venice where, according to some sources, he often visited Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, a leading artist in Venice. It was Tiepolo who expanded the restrictive conventions of reproductive, topographical and antiquarian engravings. He then returned to Rome, where he opened a workshop in Via del Corso. In 1748–1774 he created a long series of vedute of the city which established his fame. In the meantime Piranesi devoted himself to the measurement of many of the ancient edifices: this led to the publication of Le Antichità Romane de’ tempo della prima Repubblica e dei primi imperatori (“Roman Antiquities of the Time of the First Republic and the First Emperors”). In 1761 he became a member of the Accademia di San Luca and opened a printing facility of his own. In 1762 the Campo Marzio dell’antica Roma collection of engravings was printed. The following year he was commissioned by Pope Clement XIII to restore the choir of San Giovanni in Laterano, but the work did not materialize. In 1764, one of Pope’s nephews, Cardinal Rezzonico, appointed him to start his sole architectural works of importance, the restoration of the church of Santa Maria del Priorato in the Villa of the Knights of Malta, on Rome’s Aventine Hill. He combined certain ancient architectural elements, trophies and escutcheons, with a venetian whimsicality for the facade of the church and the walls of the Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta. This was the only time he expressed himself in actual marble and stone. In 1767 he was made a knight of the Golden Spur, which enabled him henceforth to sign himself “Cav[aliere] Piranesi”. In 1769 his publication of a series of ingenious and sometimes bizarre designs for chimneypieces, as well as an original range of furniture pieces, established his place as a versatile and resourceful designer. In 1776 he created his best known work as a ‘restorer’ of ancient sculpture, the Piranesi Vase, and in 1777–78 he published Avanzi degli Edifici di Pesto (Remains of the Edifices of Paestum). He died in Rome in 1778 after a long illness, and was buried in the church he had helped restore, Santa Maria del Priorato. His tomb was designed by Giuseppi Angelini.


Francesco Piranesi; 1758/59 – 23 January 1810) was an Italian engraver, etcher and architect. He was the son of the more famous Giovanni Battista Piranesi and continued his series of engravings representing monuments and ancient temples. He worked for a long period in France, where he lived during the French Revolution. Francesco Piranesi was born in Rome, the eldest son of Giovanni Battista Piranesi and his wife, Angela Pasquini. He was instructed in engraving by his father, together with his older sister Laura (1755–1785), also a noted engraver by the time of her early death. He was both engraving his own works of art and assisting his father’s work by 1775. He then started to study with other experts: engraving with Giovanni Volpato, landscape painting under the German Jacob Philipp Hackert and his brother Georg and architecture under Pierre-Adrien Pâris. Piranesi accompanied his father on two trips to the ancient Roman ruins in Paestum, Pompei and Ercolano, first in 1770, and again in 1778. In this he was part of a group of engravers which collaborated with Benedetto Mori and the architect Augusto Rosa, considered the inventor of felloplastica, the art of constructing scale models of ancient monuments in cork. Giovanni Battista created a series of preparatory drawings about Paestum, which were completed by Francesco. Upon his father’s death, shortly after the second trip, Francesco acquired his father’s publishing house and was responsible for printing most of the later editions of his prints. Piranesi collaborated with the French artist Louis Jean Desprez on a series of views of Naples, Pompeii and Rome, which were advertised in 1783 as dessins coloriés and sold at Piranesi’s shop in Rome. Although the 1783 advertisement promised 48 views, the series was not completed before Desprez left Rome to enter the employ of King Gustav III of Sweden. In the following years, Piranesi built his reputation primarily upon his engravings of antique statuary. After the assassination of Gustav III in 1792 Piranesi was employed by Baron Gustaf Adolf Reuterholm, the head of the regent council which ruled Sweden during the minority of Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden. Reuterholm tasked Piranesi with spying on the favourite of the deceased king, Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt, who had been one of the men the king had appointed in the regent council in his will, but whom Reuterholm had deposed. Piranesi managed to steal Armfelt’s letters which he had stored in the British embassy in Florence before beginning his work as foreign ambassador to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. These letters were the primary evidence used against Armfelt when he was tried in absentia for treason and sentenced to death, a sentence he managed to avoid, however, by fleeing to Russia. The occupation of the Italian peninsula in 1798 by the French Revolutionary Army led to the establishment of the short-lived Roman Republic. Piranesi soon won the admiration of the French officials directing the republic, becoming a government official. When the republic fell the following year, together with his younger brother, Pietro, he moved to Paris where he soon gained the admiration of Talleyrand. They opened a new branch of the family enterprise there, called Piranesi Frères, which decorated a line of terracotta vases manufactured in imitation of the ancient Etruscan works by Joseph Bonaparte. In 1807 Pietro Piranesi sold his share of the firm and returned to Rome. Francesco fell upon hard times after this. The Emperor Napoleon came to his help, issuing an imperial decree granting the sum of 300,000 French francs, upon the condition that Piranesi dedicate himself solely to his engraving work, then considered the best in Europe. He died unexpectedly in Paris, however, before he could fulfill his contract. Rumor has held that he died from syphilis. In 1839, the surviving collection of his engravings was purchased by the Calcografia Camerale, founded by Pope Gregory XVI, and brought to Rome. That institution is now the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica.



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