Photo Caption: Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720-1778), Catalog of works to date published by Gio-Battista Piranesi, ca. 1761, etching. Weedon Endowment funds, 2014.
Written by DAC Jim Dine Intern Rebecca Wilton ’15
Giovanni Battista Piranesi is known for his prolific work documenting the landscape of Rome – both his contemporary city of the 1700s and its storied ruins from antiquity. The Davison Art Center already has many examples of the detailed etchings and engravings that reveal his talent as an artist, but the newest acquisition of Piranesi’s work sheds light on his talents in another capacity – that of the businessman.
Today, a successful artist often has a team of individuals to help market their work – an assistant, a gallerist, a dealer, etc. The etching titled Catalog of works to date published by Gio-Battista Piranesi (Catalogo delle Opere Date finora alla Luce da Gio-Battista Pirenesi…) suggests the opposite was true for Piranesi. Serving not only as his personal catalog of his views of Rome or Vedute di Roma completed to date, with room on the list to add more, the Catalogo presents the viewer with information about his other projects, such as the Carceri d’Invenzione, and even lists where they are available for purchase at the bottom! Designed to look like a flier tacked to a wall, complete with trompe l’oeil tacks, the etching reads as an advertisement aimed at a wide audience. Showing his shrewd marketing skills, Piranesi tantalizes the viewer with partially obscured examples of his work below the flier, creating suspense and a desire to see more. By posting his list over the front of an archway, Piranesi parallels the symbolic discovery of his fictive artwork behind the flier with the discovery of Roman history depicted through his actual artwork. In the same way the viewer gets a preview or tour of Piranesi’s artwork here, we get a preview, and tour, of Rome when looking through his prints. To make his intentions even clearer he even inserts a fan gazing with wonder at his art – see if you can spot him in the print! (Hint: try looking at the lower left.)
Detail: Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720-1778), Catalog of works to date published by Gio-Battista Piranesi, ca. 1761, etching. Weedon Endowment funds, 2014.
Much more than a personal tool for organization, the Catalogo shows Piranesi consciously constructing his image as an artist much as he consciously constructs a certain idea of Rome in his Vedute.