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Giovanni Battista Piranesi

1720 Mogliano
1778 Rom

Giovanni Battista Piranesi architect, architectural theorist, vedute engraver and archaeologist, was born in Mogliano at Mestre. He completed his studies under hydraulic engineering specialist and architect, Matteo Lucchesi, then studied architecture with Giovanni Antonio Scalfurotto. Piranesi subsequently trained as an engraver under the tutelage of Carlo Zucchi in Venice.
In 1740, Piranesi travelled to Rome at the request of the Venetian ambassador, where he was taught by the vedute engraver Giuseppe Vasi. During this period, Giovanni Battista Piranesi executed a series of architectural fantasies which were published under the title "Prima Parte di Architetture e Prospettive" in 1743. He visited the ruins of Herculaneum and Pompeii, and in 1744 is thought to have briefly worked in Giovanni Battista Tiepolo’s studio in Venice.
After returning to Rome, Piranesi made the first of his "Vedute di Roma", which he continued to work on until his death, as well as the "Carceri", which depicted imaginary gaol architecture and nightmarish labyrinths. These were first published under the title "Invenzioni capric di Carceri" in 1749. The four volume "Le antichità Romane" (1756), which Piranesi executed as part of his studies of Rome’s historic sites made him internationally famous. "Della Magnificenza ed Architettura de' Romani" (1761) expounded the thesis that Roman architecture was Etruscan in origin, in contrast with the theory that Roman art had its basis in Greece, advocated by Winckelmann. This was a debate, which Piranesi continued to participate in, later in his life.
In 1761 Piranesi opened his own printing press and became a member of the Accademia di San Luca. The architect’s only surviving structure is the Maltese Church S. Maria del Priorato in Rome (1764-66), which Cardinal Giovanni Battista Rezzonico commissioned Piranesi to rebuild.
In 1757, Piranesi was made an honorary member of the "Society of Antiquarians" in London, and in 1767 he was knighted "Cavaliere degli Speroni d'oro" by Pope Clemens XIII. His vedute were popular as souvenirs amongst visitors to Rome, and his work is regarded as having had lasting influence on the classical and romantic movements of the 18th century. Giovanni Battista Piranesi died in 1778 in Rome. His son Francesco Piranesi, who had worked with him from 1769, continued his father's work.

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