PIRANESI, Giovanni Battista (1720-1778). Lettere di giustificazione scritte a Milord Charlemont e a' di lui agenti di Roma ... intorno la dedica della sua opera delle Antichità Rom[ane] fatta allo stesso signor ed ultimamente soppressa. Rome: [G.B. Piranesi], 1757.
8° (276 x 192mm). Etched dedication leaf [W.-E. 739], title-page [W.-E. 738, state one of two early states], and 8 plates, one double-page and folding [W.-E. 745 (early state)-752]. 4 headpieces [W.-E. 740-743] and one tailpiece [W.-E. 744], by and after Piranesi. (Very light spotting and marking to dedication, title and plates, light offsetting on plate V.) Contemporary Italian vellum-backed boards, gilt morocco lettering-piece and decorative label on spine (boards a little marked, board edges rubbed). Provenance: original recipient (manuscript inscription in vignette of dedication leaf, erased causing minor loss to engraving, and overwritten in an 18th-century hand with the name of:) -- Padre Bartolammeo di Panigai -- Maffeo Pinelli (1736-1785, manuscript pressmark '609' on upper pastedown; J. Morelli Bibliotheca Maphaei Pinellii (Venice: 1787), IV, p. 97, no. 609; his first sale, 2 March 1789, lot 1313, very probably to:) -- Sir Christopher Sykes, 2nd baronet, Sledmere House (1749-1801, [?]his inscription 'From the Pinelli Library , N 1313; pencilled key to initials in cartouches in engraved tailpiece, reading 'John P[..]ley , Edw. Morfey , Pet[er] Grant' [?]in Sykes' hand; by descent).
FIRST EDITION, WITH THE TITLE AND FIRST PLATE IN EARLY STATES. THE MAFFEO PINELLI-SIR CHRISTOPHER SYKES COPY OF PIRANESI'S RARE POLEMIC, which disowned Lord Charlemont's patronage and set out Piranesi's own view of the relationship between artist and patron. The Irish nobleman and politician James Caulfield, first Earl of Charlemont (1728-1799) was a patron of the arts, chairman of the committee of the Dilettanti Club and friend of Burke, Johnson, Reynolds, Goldsmith and Hogarth. Educated privately, he went abroad at the age of eighteen in 1746, travelling to Turin (where he resided for a year, making the acquaintance of David Hume), Rome, the Greek Islands, Constantinople, the Levant, and Egypt, before returning to Ireland in 1754. During this time, he became a sponsor of Piranesi, whose Camera sepolcrali degli antichi romani le quali esistono dentro e fuori di Roma (c.1750) was subsidised by and dedicated to Charlemont; Piranesi engraved a large number of additional plates, and -- having secured a promise of further subventions from Charlemont to offset the significant financial outlay involved -- added them to the work, publishing the four-volume set under the title Le Antichità romane in 1756. However, by this point Charlemont had returned to Ireland and, despite repeated requests from Piranesi, did not provide the artist with the anticipated payment but only a sum of less than 200 scudi, a figure which Piranesi dismissed as offensively small (in contrast, the Pope had given 1,200 scudi without any expectation of a dedication). In frustration and anger, Piranesi removed the dedications to Charlemont present on the first states of the title-pages to the work, and scrupulously expunged all references to his erstwhile patron from the text.
Further to this, Piranesi published the Lettere di giustificazione the following year, which reprints two of the artist's letters to Charlemont together with a third to Father Peter Grant, who had attempted to intervene in the dispute and mediate between the two parties. The textual vindication of his position is complemented by the series of eight plates which demonstrate the disassociation of Charlemont's patronage from the work in a relentlessly methodical manner; they illustrate the original title-pages with their dedications to Charlemont, two versions of Charlemont's text for the dedication leaf, the first title with the dedicatory text erased, and, finally, the second state of the title-page with the revised dedication. As Wilton-Ely states, 'the intellectual and social changes of the late 18th century affected the traditional relationship between patron and artist, and the Lettere are symptomatic of issues greater than a mere personal quarrel. Themes which transcend the tedious details of the affair include the nobility of artistic reputation and the imperishable nature of art -- the latter neatly symbolized by the serpent of Eternity in the [dedication leaf]. For Piranesi, deeply involved in the study of Roman civilization, the creative act of recording the achievement for posterity conferred on him a dignity worthy of his patron's respect' (p.802). The title page of the work exists in two early states: with a quotation from Ennius (as here) and with a quotation from Pliny; Wilton-Ely posits that the first state was for copies 'circulated to influential people of rank while the second one was intended for Piranesi's artist friends and collaborators, especially among the British colony at Rome' (p.803). The present copy was acquired by the celebrated Venetian bibliophile Maffeo Pinelli before 1787, when it was recorded in Morelli's catalogue of the library, and was offered in the first of Pinelli's two sales (2 March 1789, a sale of 60 days and 1 February 1790, a sale of 31 days). The Lettere were most probably bought at Pinelli's sale by Sir Christopher Sykes, 2nd baronet, since it was the only work of Piranesi's published before 1769 not included in the Consul Smith set of Piranesi's works (cf. the following lot); certainly, the London Library copy of the sale catalogue is glossed with Sir Christopher's name as a buyer on that day of the sale, although it gives no buyer's name for this lot. Only six copies of Lettere di giustificazione can be traced at auction since 1975; as Hind states, 'the volume was suppressed soon after publication, which accounts for its extreme rarity' (p.84). Cicognara 3830; Hind p.84; Wilton-Ely E.1.