BEAUTY IN DECAY: PIRANESI'S VIEWS OF ROME
The Venetian printmaker and architect G.B. Piranesi (1720–1778) created over 130 etched Views of Rome (Vedute di Roma). His etchings, made from the early 1740s until his death, were made for travellers on the ‘Grand Tour’. From the early eighteenth century English and European aristocrats and wealthy members of the middle classes furthered their education by visiting Italian cities, in particular, Rome, Naples, Venice and Florence. These travels were considered indispensable to the development of a young man’s – since it was largely young men who undertook the trip – knowledge of ancient and modern history, literature and the arts, and music and theatre. Each city had a list of important sites that artists recorded in paintings and prints, and which travellers took home as mementos.
Piranesi’s Views of Rome transformed the veduta genre and in the process his public’s imagination of Rome. Trained in perspective and stage design, Piranesi exaggerated the scale of the buildings in the Views of Rome, giving the architecture of ancient Rome a monumental dignity. His prints immortalised the city and presented it in crumbling decay, the impression therefore being that contemporary architecture lay in the shadow of its glorious Classical past.
Upon their return to England, many aristocrats displayed their collection of prints in ‘print rooms’, which were typically designed by female members of the household, who pasted the prints onto the walls of a small room and embellished the display with decorative tromp l’oeil borders. The presentation of this display is inspired by these print rooms.
These works include a group of recently conserved ‘Views of Rome’ from Mr L.H. Landseer, on display for the first time since they were acquired in 1939.