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Piranesi

Category: Artist and sculptor

Giovanni Battista Piranesi  (1720 – 1778) was an Italian artist famous for his etchings of Rome and of a set of prints which are now called “ fictitious and atmospheric prisons" (Carceri d'Invenzione)”. No one appears to understand the symbolism involved and the current naming is false, as the etchings describe his 'prison' of the body and the pictures were a set of visions.

Carceri d'invenzione ( 'Imaginary Prisons'), is a series of 16 prints that show enormous subterranean vaults with stairs and mighty machines. Symbolically they are the most extraordinary vision of the state of the human body you are ever likely to see. Remembering that houses [castles], rooms, stairs, doors, windows, levels and layers are all symbolic, an enormous amount of detail is provided in the drawings of both his state of mind and state of health.

The series was started in 1745. The first state prints were published in 1750 and consisted of 14 etchings, untitled and unnumbered, with a sketch-like look. The original prints were 16” x 21”. For the second publishing in 1761, all the etchings were reworked and numbered I–XVI (1–16). Numbers II and V were new etchings to the series. Numbers I through IX were all done in portrait format (taller than they are wide), while X to XVI were landscape (wider than they are high). Though untitled, their conventional titles are:

  • I - Title Plate
  • II - The Man on the Rack
  • III - The Round Tower - see Tower symbolism
  • IV - The Grand Piazza
  • V - The Lion Bas-Reliefs - see lion symbolism
  • VI - The Smoking Fire - see symbolism for smoke and fire and chimney
  • VII - The Drawbridge - see bridge symbolism
  • VIII - The Staircase with Trophies - see symbolism for stairs and ladders as well as that for treasure
  • IX - The Giant Wheel - see wheel symbolism
  • X - Prisoners on a Projecting Platform - prisoners are puppets, see cage symbolism
  • XI - The Arch with a Shell Ornament - see shell symbolism
  • XII - The Sawhorse - see horse symbolism
  • XIII - The Well
  • XIV - The Gothic Arch
  • XV - The Pier with a Lamp
  • XVI - The Pier with Chains

I have only provided one drawing in the observations, the others can be found via this LINK.

The symbolism is so extensive you may need to have the symbol section permanently open as you look through.

Observations

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