The Piranesi Effect

The Piranesi EffectThis seminar will focus on the work and legacy of the architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778). A selective approach to relevant aspects of the engraved corpus (from the archaeological views of Rome to the architectural fantasy of the prison etchings) will frame our contemplation of the ways in which the Piranesian image can be understood to represent the epistemological break between the early modern and modern periods. Topics include: perspective and scenography; the visual components of the capriccio, the veduta, the pianta and the frammento; the image of Rome; architectural typologies (from bridges, arches, temples, mausolea, amphitheatres, and streets to foundations, columns, capitals, sculptural fragments, antique vases, and ornamental fireplaces); antiquarian culture; Piranesi\’s own polemical writings; the context provided by Vico\’s philosophy of history; and the modern intellectual response (Eisenstein, Foucault, Huxley, Tafuri, Yourcenar). In this seminar, major emphasis will be placed on how to look at Piranesi\’s etchings. His is an enormously complex pictorial intelligence whose incongruities establish the basis for a formalism poised between the extremes of pure invention and archaeological veracity. Accordingly, we will devote much time to attempting to decipher the compositional issues his images provoke as well as the ambiguous relationship they forge between architecture and pictoriality.