Giovanni Battista Piranesi
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Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Carceri d'Invenzione (F. 24-39; Hind 1-16; Robison 29-44; W.-E. 26-41)

Details
Giovanni Battista Piranesi
Carceri d'Invenzione (F. 24-39; Hind 1-16; Robison 29-44; W.-E. 26-41)
the complete set of fourteen etchings, 1749, in the First Edition, Second Issue, published by Bouchard, Rome, 1750 to circa 1758, all Robison's state I, except R. 29 and R. 35 both Robison's state II (according to Robison R. 38 is normally seen in the second state rather than the first state as here), generally very fine impressions of these rare, early states, before the numbers and rework, on laid paper without apparent watermark (R. 37 with encircled Fleur-de-Lys, similar to Robison wmk. 5), with wide margins, the usual central fold (each with remains of a guard verso), each plate with pale staining, occasional short tears (some backed) at the sheet edges, otherwise generally in good condition
P. 550 x 406mm., S. 882 x 518mm. (14)
Provenance
National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C. (L. 1932d), with their Duplicate stamp verso (not in Lugt).
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Lot Essay

The Carceri stands apart from the main body of Piranesi's work for several reasons, most important of which is the mystery surrounding the actual purpose of the series. Unlike the other thousand or so etchings he produced over forty years, which essentially set out to record the magnificence of Rome's imperial past and argue for the superiority of Roman culture over that of the Greeks, Piranesi refused to expand upon what these strange, haunting interiors were meant to signify. They show the influence both of his early training in stage design with the Bibiena family in Bologna, and his fascination with architecture, encouraged no doubt by his father's being a stone-mason. The rather theatrical, two-dimensional treatment of the space is certainly reminiscent of a stage backdrop, complete with trompe-l'oeil effects and dramatic lighting. Perhaps they are best understood as the prospectus of a young man anxious to display his virtuosity, for it is only the radical revisions carried out twelve years later for the Second Edition that we find any overt references to torture and punishment.
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