In this etching of St. Peter’s Basilica, Rome, by Italian draftsman, architect and etcher Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the sculptures appear as animated as the people, who seem dwarfed by the enormous structure. In the centre of the composition is Saint Peter's baldachin, a large Baroque sculpted bronze canopy, over the high altar. Before this is the sunken Confessio, a 17th-century chapel named in honour of the confession of St. Peter.
This print is taken from Piranesi’s 'Vedute di Roma' ('Views of Rome'), a collection of 135 large scale etchings showing the great architectural monuments of Rome, both antique and contemporary. The collection also includes an etching of the 'Piazza of St. Peter’s, Rome'. Collectively Piranesi’s works for 'Vedute di Roma' are evidence of the remarkable architectural splendour found in the former capital of the Roman Empire.
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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