This page was created by Erin Jones.  The last update was by Jeanne Britton.

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Palace of the Academy on the Via del Corso, established by Louis XIV, King of France for French students of Painting, Sculpture and Architecture

In its visual and especially verbal details, this image sheds light on Piranesi’s artistic development, collaborations, and career. As the lengthy caption of this view indicates, the French Academy was located on the Via del Corso in Rome and founded by Louis XIV for “students of Painting, Sculpture, and Architecture.” From the moment Piranesi arrived in Rome, he made strong connections to the students, or pensionnaires, of the Academy. The institution’s illustrious circle of artists, architects, printers, and patrons helped Piranesi to flourish in his early years as an emerging author and vedutista. In fact, Piranesi set up his first workshop across from the Academy until he transferred to the Palazzo Tomati in 1760, where he established his own printshop and museum. His signature from this early period can still be seen in this capriccio: “Piranesi inv[entò], incise, e vende dirimpetto all’Accademia di Francia in Roma.” 
Piranesi’s connections with members of the French Academy are extensive. He contributed 48 small views to the popular illustrated guidebook Varie vedute di Roma Antica e Moderna Disegnate e Intagliate da Celebri Autori (1745), which involved many well-known artists of the French Academy including Jérôme-Charles Bellicard (1726-1786) and Jean-Laurent Legeay (1708-1786). He also called upon Jean Barbault (1718-1762) for his expertise in figural engraving in the third volume of the Antichità Romane, and Charles Michel Ange Challe (1718-1778) is said to have provided the French text of the Diverse Maniere d’Adornare I Cammini and Ville de Pesto. Painter Hubert Robert (1733-1808), who often accompanied Piranesi on excursions and excavations, adopted Piranesi’s combination of architectural fantasy and archaeology in his large and sweeping views of ruins. These connections provide insight into the collaborative nature of Piranesi’s work, his reception in France among collectors and French artists, and the ways Academic culture shaped Piranesi’s career and artistic practice.

Perhaps as an homage to the French Academy, Piranesi describes the institution in elaborate detail. His first annotation specifies that “Modelli delle più rare Statue ed altri segni della Romana Magnificenza, sì antichi, che moderni,” including models of Trajan’s Column, equestrian statues, busts, and bas-reliefs were, in keeping with the Academy’s encouragement of direct contact with ancient art, were exhibited for artists to draw. In this idealized view of the Academy by Giovanni Panini (1691-1765), who taught perspective at the Academy, students sketch ancient sculptures as they are surrounded by paintings of the Pantheon, Colosseum, and the Tomb of Cecilia Metella, the “examples of Roman Magnificence” Piranesi describes in the text (Galitz). Many of the views in Panini’s painting bear a striking resemblance to Piranesi’s Vedute di Roma

Further emphasizing the hands-on approach of the Academy’s curriculum is the colossal ancient statue being wheeled into the institution in the middle of the busy street. Residents of the Academy shout from the balcony, directing the men below to maneuver around the traffic of carriages, stalls, and tourists. As Piranesi outlines in his annotations, students not only copied sculptures, but also drew from life. Pensionnaires received lessons in anatomy and life drawing in rooms where, the first annotation points out, architectural and equestrian models were exhibited. Piranesi further points out, in the third and fourth annotations, the apartments where royal visitors, the director, and artists lived, showing how the palazzo served as a residence in addition to an academy of art and exhibition space. In this way, the artists formed crucial connections not only to other artists but also to patrons and collectors. In fact, the director of the Academy, Charles-Joseph Natoire, promoted Piranesi’s Antichità Romane in France as soon as it had been published (Hyde Minor 2015). The deep recession of the street all the way toward the Piazza del Popolo, indicated as “7,” allows viewers to take in all the details of the palace and street where Piranesi first set up shop in Rome. Such details offer a rare view into the ways artists including Piranesi trained and formed networks in eighteenth-century Rome. (ZL)

To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 16 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here.

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