A tower is situated within a stone interior, which includes large staircases and elevated walkways. The windows of the tower are barred and reveal nothing of what is inside. Figures can be seen on the stairs and walkways but it is not clear whether they are guards or prisoners.
Piranesi began work on the first series of 14 prints showing carceri (jails) between July 1745 and August 1747. The designs were published as ‘Carceri d’Invenzione’ (Jails of Invention) in 1749/50. The ambitious size, theatrical perspective and sinister atmosphere (partly created by the cables, pulleys and levers included, which suggest extreme labour and torture) marked the works out as something new.
Ten years after the first series of ‘Carceri’, Piranesi radically reworked the same plates and added two additional designs to the series. He also increased the contrasts between the lit spaces and shadows and made the architectural forms more elaborate. Today, Piranesi’s work is best-known by these later plates.
This example is thought to have been published in the 19th-century. Between 1835 and 1839, ‘Carceri d’Invenzione’ was reissued in Paris by the Didot family of printers and publishers, using Piranesi’s original printing blocks.
Giovanni Battista Piranesi was born in Mogliano Veneto, near Treviso. He studied architecture under his uncle, Matteo Lucchesi. His most original works are etchings of extravagant, imaginary prisons, published as ‘Carceri d’Invenzione’ (1749/50). However, he is better known for views of ancient and modern Rome, published from 1745 onwards as ‘Vedute’, and for pro-Roman, anti-Greek writings, based on archaeological resources. Piranesi’s work greatly influenced 18th-century architecture and representations of the Decline and Fall of Rome. In 1757 he was made a member of the Society of Antiquaries in London. In 1771, Horace Walpole wrote: ‘Piranesi ...conceived visions of Rome beyond what it boasted even in the meridian of its splendour.’
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