This page was created by Anonymous.  The last update was by Helen B. Kampmann Marodin.

The Digital Piranesi

Title Page

The title page of Carceri d'Invenzione displays some of the elements that Piranesi would repetitively depict throughout the remaining fifteen pages that compose the publication. Piranesi takes us by the hand to explore the dramatic subterranean spaces filled with catwalks, wooden beams, pulleys, chains, wheels, and spikes he built down into the depths of the earth. From the first plate, the viewer is already departed from the surface that will only partially appears in few plates. Through Piranesi's deliberate manipulation of the audience's viewpoint and emotions, the artist reached the powerful effect of his compositions. Immersed in a tenebrous scenario, usually framed by darkened archways or similar architectural elements, the perspectives vantage point offers a look from below in which exits are almost imperceptible. The chiaroscuro implies a source of light coming from the upper right that theatrically floodlights Piranesi's lettering.

The comparison between the state published in 1761, reproduced in Didot's Opere, and the first states published from 1749-50 is telling of Piranesi's aspirations for the Imaginary Prisons. Originally titled Invenzione capric di Carceri, Piranesi reworked the previous fourteen plates and republished the series after a decade, added of two new etchings, as Carceri d’Invenzione. In the original title, Piranesi only cautiously refers to the genre of capriccio, an architectural view based on a fanciful juxtaposition of fantasy and reality, by the abbreviated word “capric.” He completely abandons the definition of the illustrations as capricci in the second edition, though, leaving the categorization of the genre undefined.

The changes in the title also reflect Piranesi’s autonomy after his successful establishment as an artist in Rome in the second edition. If, in the first edition, young Piranesi felt compelled to include his publisher’s name Giovani (Jean) Bouchard in the title page and refer to the then highly popular genre of capriccio in the title page, he had grown to be a owner of a publishing company in the 1760s. The modifications imply Piranesi’s maturity not only regarding the creative process, but also as an entrepreneur in the system of arts.

The architecture is much more complex in the second edition, presenting a multiplicity of planes significantly increased after the first edition. Piranesi created a succession of archways and bridges that almost obliterates the open skies which, in turn, now only appears through a slight opening in the background. He also expanded the space downwards by creating a passageway in the bottom right of the picture plane, enticing us to continue our journey through his dazzling ingenuity in the following plates.


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