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Prisoners on a projecting platform, from Carceri d'Invenzione c.1749

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

* 1720 in Mogliano Veneto † 1778 in Rome

Etching with engraving and open bite. Size of sheet: 51.3 x 70.5 cm.

Watermark:    Fleur-de-lys in a single circle (Robison 5)

Literature:    A. Robison, Piranesi Early Architectural Fantasies, A Catalogue RaisonnĂ© of the Etchings, Chicago, 1986, R.36.

A fine, early and atmospheric (printers proof?) impression of Robison's first state (of six), with a great range of tone. Some printing smudges in the margins, due to uncleaned printing surface. From the First Edition, probably first or second issue, before the ink dabbing under the platform usually found on the third issue, printed with detail and selectively wiped plate tone, particularly in the shadowed areas of the figures and under the platform, with the central vertical fold. In very good condition and wide margins.

The Carceri d'Invenzione was first produced in 1749 as a series of 14 etchings. The series is unusual within Piranesi's oeuvre in that these etchings of dark, mysterious interiors are not representations of actual places, unlike his Vedute di Roma, and he never explained their origin or meaning. As with his Roman views, they show his fascination with architecture along with his background in engineering and stage design. It is probable that at this stage in his career he wished to diverge from his known compositions and take the opportunity to experiment, to show his skill and innovation to prospective new clients. He certainly achieved this in the Carceri series with his imaginative compositions and mastery of various techniques, including etching, engraving, sulphur tint, open bite and burnishing.

Prisoners on a Projecting Platform is an impression from the First Edition. These prints tend to have a sketchier quality than the later editions, conveying a sense of freedom and lightness of touch in their execution and offering the viewer an insight into the artist's working process. Careful inking and wiping of the plate emphasises the fine detail in the present work.

This plate is the only one in the series which contains a substantial group of figures; prisoners who are bound and contorted, referencing the suffering that you might expect to see in these dungeons. The image is composed to lead the viewer's eye to this group, framed with monumental stone arches and seen from a low viewpoint; devices which are employed in all the plates in the series.

Piranesi's experimental approach to this series, producing the First Edition of finely etched plates, then subsequently reworking the images in various stages, allowed him to develop his technique and reveal his virtuosity. This fine example of an early First Edition etching allows us a glimpse into Piranesi's working methods, his understanding of architecture, his imagination, his draughtsmanship and ultimately his pride in his craft.

Price on request


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