Sunday, 28 August 2016

Piranesi’s etching of “Fragments of a pilaster and a column”


Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78)
“Fragment of an ornamental pilaster with detail of a column found on the Tiber Island”, 1768-78, from the series, “Vasi, candelabri, cippi, sarcofagi ...” (Vases, candelabra, grave stones, sarcophagi)
Wilton-Ely (1994) advises: “The pilaster is in the Villa Medici; the column is in the Jenkins Collection” (p. 1003).

Etching on heavy laid paper attached to a washi archival support sheet
Size: (sheet) 70.4 x 48.6 cm; (plate) 66 x 41.5 cm
Lettered above or beside each fragment with the title and details of the provenance or ownership of the object. Lettered below the fragments with the dedication “All'Illustrissimo Signor Erdmansdorff Cavaliere Sassone amatore e seguace delle belle arti in atto d'Ossequio il Cavaliere Gio. Batt[ist]a Piranesi. D.D.D.”
Focillon 1918 638; Wilton-Ely 1994 925; Ficacci 2011 770

References: Lugi Ficacci (2011) “Piranesi: The complete Etchings”, 2 vols; Henri Focillon (1918), “GBP essai de catalogue raisonné”; John Wilton-Ely (1994), “GBP, the complete etchings”, 2 vols; AM Hind (1922), “G.B.Piranesi a critical study”, (cat. of Views of Rome); Andrew Robison (1986), “Piranesi, early architectural fantasies, a catalogue raisonné of the etchings”; see also the British Museum’s description of this print: http://www.britishmuseum.org/research/collection_online/collection_object_details.aspx?objectId=3009863&partId=1&searchText=Piranesi+925&page=1

Condition: strong, well-inked impression. There are two large tears or either side of the central fold of the sheet but these have been stabilised/mended with an archival support sheet of fine washi paper (millennium quality). Beside these “mended” tears the sheet is in excellent condition (i.e. there are no stains, holes or foxing).

I am selling this stunning etching by GB Piranesi—one of the most famous printmakers of the 18th century—for AU$400 in total (currently US$302.36/EUR270.44/GBP230.36 at the time of posting this listing) including postage and handling to anywhere in the world.
If you are interested in purchasing this superb, early impression, please contact me (oz_jim@printsandprinciples.com) and I will send you a PayPal invoice to make the payment easy.


Few printmakers match the technical ability and sustained focus on portraying architectural ruins like the great 18th century master, GB Piranesi. Not only was he able to showcase the artefacts and views of ruins that he portrayed in a way where each feature could be examined in minute detail, but Piranesi was also able to portray them as if they were more than architectural renderings. To my eyes, his images seem to have an inexplicable aura of strength and grandeur about them. Arguably, this aura stems from the formal symmetry of his compositions, the rich oily-black of the ink or the proportional balance between the amount of drawing in the print to the area of untouched white paper—and the list of driving attributes could go on and on.

Regarding this particular print, Piranesi was a consummate seller of prints and even a trader in antique artefacts as well. At the time that he executed this print, his principal client, Clement XIII, had passed away in 1769 along with his Rezzonico patronage and he needed to ensure that his finances were secure. To shore up his financial standing, Piranesi embarked on an ethically questionable path: he made the classical antiquities that he was selling more desirable to passing foreigners by reconstructing them with odd fragments (i.e. he made them “better” from his personal viewpoint). Most interesting to me, in terms of questionable practices, he also dedicated his prints to potential clients in the hope that on seeing their name festooned on a print, the line of dedication would induce them to purchase the artefact depicted and—of course—an edition of the print bearing their name. This print, for instance, is dedicated to the “Illustrious Mr. Knight Erdmannsdorff Saxon lover and follower of Fine Arts …” 









As a side note regarding my personal fascination with Piranesi, I thought I might show a photo of a sculpture (reproduced on the left face of the book) that I made for a fish tank that once graced the end of my bed. This sculpture and the series of drawings of it (shown on the right) were directly inspired by Piranesi’s reconstruction of ancient ruins

For those who may be interested in the brown colour of the drawings, I used lemon juice as an ink which became a honey-brown once the drawings were heated.

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