The Digital Piranesi


Giovanni Battista Piranesi was an innovative graphic artist most known for his architectural studies of Rome and imaginary prisons. “The Digital Piranesi” aims to make this rare material accessible in a complete digital collection and, in an interactive digital edition, to make it visible, legible, and searchable in ways that the original works are not. The scale and breadth of Piranesi’s works require innovative methods of presentation, discovery, and analysis. By digitally illuminating and enacting many of the graphic features of his designs, this project will provide new ways of seeing this rare and complex historical material. A digital volume dedicated to the Views of Rome is under construction here.

The University of South Carolina is one of fewer than ten institutions to hold a complete set of Piranesi’s posthumous Opere (1837-9), a set of twenty-nine elephant-folio volumes, housed in the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, that assembles all of his individual publications (such as Views of Rome and Imaginary Prisons). Alternatively historical and imaginative, Piranesi’s representations of ruins are exercises in rigorous archaeological investigation as much as they are fanciful experiments in urban imagination. “The Digital Piranesi” aspires to appeal to these two elements of Piranesi’s own works—the historical and the imaginative—and to explore the ways that Piranesi’s works seem to predict many elements of digital design. His illustrations of ruins and crypts are immersive, his architectural studies often consist of multiple layered images, and his maps and ruins include detailed alphabetic keys. His indexed maps, annotated architectural studies, immersive interiors, and multi-image views push the limits of the printed page. While his earliest works were individual engravings of Roman ruins marketed towards visitors on the grand tour, he quickly began producing increasingly larger images and adding not only textual keys but also indices, prefaces, and dissertations. Pushing against the limits not only of the printed page but also of the bound book, his multi-plate engravings become elaborate foldouts in bound volumes, and the references in his maps and indices direct users through unnumbered pages and between different publications. His works are rare—his complete works are exceedingly so—and they constitute a colossal corpus with expansive pedagogical and scholarly potential lacking in any comprehensive searchable index. “The Digital Piranesi” aims to make the content and connections in this rich body of work easily accessible and searchable.  
PI: Jeanne Britton, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections
Co-PI: Mike Gavin, English 
NEH Postdoctoral Fellow: Zoe Langer, Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections 

Project Staff
Mackenzie Anderson (2019-2020)
Jessica Atkins, Magellan Scholar (2017-2019)
Mallory Baskin (2017-2018)
Constance Caddell (2017-2018)
Diem Dao (2018-2019)
T. Zachary Frazier (2018-2019)
Avery Freeman (2019-2022)
Erin Jones (2018)
Adams Keefer (2022- )
Alexis Kratzer (2018-2019)
Harith Kumte (2019-2022)
Clio Lang (2020-2022)
Daniel Neath (2020-2021)
Walt Pach (2021- )
Adiv Sivakumar (2018)
Aniruth Sivakumar (2019-2022)
Chris Terry, Magellan Scholar (2017-2019)
Nathalie Watson (2017-2018)
Lindsay Wright (2019-2021)

Advisory Board and Faculty Members
Alexandre Bonafos, French, USC
Kate Boyd, Digital Collections, USC
Lydia Brandt, Art and Architectural History, USC
Curtis Fletcher, Ahmanson Lab, Sidney Harman Academy for Polymathic Study, University of Southern California
Hunter Gardner, Classics, USC
Andrew Graciano, Art History, USC
Carol Harrison, History, USC
Anna House, Art History, USC
Lawryn Henderson, Preservation Specialist, USC
Evan Meaney, Media Arts, USC
Heather Hyde Minor, Art History, University of Notre Dame
Aria dal Molin, Italian, USC
Megan Oliver, Digital Collections, USC (now University of Missouri, Kansas City)
John Pinto, Princeton, History of Art and Archaeology, Emeritus, Princeton University
Jason Porter, School of Journalism and Mass Communications, USC
Rebecca Zorach, Art History, Northwestern University


Supported by an NEH grant from the Division of Preservation and Access (2019-2023), a Digital Art History grant from the Kress Foundation (2022-2024) and, at the University of South Carolina, an ASPIRE II grant from the Office of the Vice President for Research (2017-2019 and 2021-2022), the Center for Digital Humanities, the Magellan Scholar Program, the Maners-Pappas Endowment, the Humanities Collaborative, and the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections.

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