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Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Torture of a prisoner

Torture of a prisoner

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About the original:

Dating: The plate executed between 1749 and 1761; pressure approx. 1775

Other titles: The Man on the Rack (ENG)

Tortura di un condannato (ITA)

Carceri d'invenzione (ITA)

Designation: Graphics

Material and technique: Etching and copper engraving on paper

Technique: , Etching, Copperplate, Material: , Paper

Dimensions: 563 x 417 mm


Subject: Visual arts

Classification: 532 - Visual arts

Motif: Artistic fabrication

Motif type: Architectural

Acquisition: Purchased 1970

Inventory no.: NG.K&H.1970.0084

Part of exhibition: Piranesi and the modern, 2022 - 2023

Registration level: Single object

Owner and collection: The National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Visual Art Collections

Photo: Ivarsøy, Dag Andre/Børre Høstland

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Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Giovanni Battista Piranesi was an Italian artist who specialized in copper engraving, etching and architecture. He is particularly known for his large illustrations of classical and contemporary Rome and its surroundings, which contributed to giving the city an increased status and to the rise of classicism. Piranesi came to Rome in 1740 as a draftsman for the Venetian ambassador in the city. He studied with the leading illustrators and settled permanently in Rome from 1745. Here he developed his own technique in copper engraving, with rich textures and bold contrasts between light and shadow. He created about 2,000 such stitches. In 1745 he published Carceri d'Invenzione, which were imaginative pictures of prisons, and then Roman vedutes (lifelike landscape paintings) in which picturesque ruins played the main role. The images are particularly notable for their imaginative spatial effects. In 1756 came his four-volume work Antichità Romane, in addition to the series Vedute di Roma (single print 1748–1778) and the Greek temples in Paestum (1777–1778). His precision, combined with dramatic expression, make his prints remarkable representations of architecture. Archaeological excavations went hand in hand with this. He applied his knowledge to a rich, antiquing style of decoration. In connection with his collection of antiquities, he began the publication of Vasi, candelabri, cippi, sarcophagi, tripodi and so on (from 1768), which were to have great importance for the emergence of the later Empire style. His production reached approximately 1,000 graphic magazines. His sons Francesco and Pietro, as well as his daughter Laura, continued the copper engraving business. As an architect, he did not design many buildings, but his Piazza dei Cavalieri di Malta (1765) on the Aventine Hill in Rome has his typical picturesque style. The square also has a gate with a famous peephole, where you can see the Peter's dome as a focal point through a garden path. He also designed the Villa del Priorato di Malta and the church of S. Maria del Priorato (1765), which is an early and exquisite example of classicism.