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(Paris: ca. 1835). 505 x 720 mm. (20 x 28 1/4"). Second Paris Edition.
Plate 39 from volume II of "Le Antichità Romane," with a 375 x 500 mm. (14 3/4 x 19 1/2") etching of an external view of the remains of a columbarium tomb which possibly belonged to the Augusto family. Focillon 263; Wilton-Ely 398. ◆Scattered mild foxing to the (generous) margins, faint vertical crease to center, but a fine specimen, clean, fresh, and rather bright, with a rich impression of the plate.
This is a handsome etching showing an external view of burial chambers within a mausoleum believed to belong to the family of the Roman emperor Augustus, from the second Paris edition of Piranesi's masterful "Roman Antiquities." Gaius Octavius Augustus (63 B.C. - 14 A.D.) became the first emperor of Rome in 27 B.C. and soon undertook an ambitious building program, constructing a forum, temples, a mausoleum, triumphal arches, and other monuments. Many of these buildings, including the mausoleum, were ransacked and damaged by the pillaging Visigoths in 410, and by the time our artist came to the city, they had fallen into ruin.
Italian artist Giovanni Battista (or Giambattista) Piranesi (1720-78) studied in Venice, where he was influenced by Tiepolo's topographical and antiquarian engravings, before opening a print shop in Rome. There, he produced the etchings of Roman views, buildings, and ruins that made him famous. Informed by his experience in Venice and his study of the works of Marco Ricci and particularly Giovanni Paolo Panini, he appreciated not only the engineering of the ancient buildings but also the poetic aspects of the ruins. His manipulations of scale and his scientific distribution of light and shade helped to create a striking effect.
A number of the Views are notable for depicting human figures whose poverty, lameness, apparent drunkenness, and other visible flaws appear to echo the decay of the ruins; we see such an instance in the present plate, where a well-dressed young tourist is besieged by three beggars. This is consistent with a familiar trope of Renaissance literature, in which the ruins of Rome are lamented as a metaphor for the imperfection and transience of human existence. Throughout his lifetime, Piranesi created numerous prints depicting the Eternal City that were widely collected, including by gentlemen on the Grand Tour. (ST15647)