The Round Tower, from Carceri d'invenzione (Imaginary Prisons)

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, Mogliano Veneto 1720–1778 Rome)

Giovanni Bouchard (active 18th century)
ca. 1749–50
Etching, engraving, sulphur tint or open bite, burnishing; first state of four (Robison)
Sheet: 24 13/16 x 19 1/2 in. (63 x 49.5 cm) Plate: 21 7/16 x 16 5/16 in. (54.5 x 41.5 cm)
Credit Line:
Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1937
Accession Number:
  • Description

    A native of Venice, Piranesi went to Rome at age twenty and spent the rest of his life in the ancient city, which was the inspiration for and subject of most of his more than one thousand etchings. Piranesi studied architecture, engineering, and stage design, and his first plans for buildings reflect this background combined with the tremendous impact of classical Roman architecture. The fourteen plates depicting prisons, probably Piranesi's best-known series, were described on their title page as "capricious inventions." These structures, their immensity emphasized by the low viewpoint and the small size of the figures, derive from stage prisons rather than real ones—real prisons in the Italy of Piranesi's day were tiny dungeons. Spatial anomalies and ambiguities abound in all the images of the series; they were not meant to be logical but to express the vastness and strength that Piranesi experienced in contemplating Roman architecture, to which he remained in thrall throughout his life.

  • Signatures, Inscriptions, and Markings

    Marking: On verso at right center: The Metropolitan Museum of Art stamp

  • Provenance

    James Franck Bright ; Vendor: James Rimell & Son

  • Exhibition History

    The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Drawings and Prints: Selections from the Permanent Collection," May 20, 2013–August 26, 2013.

  • Catalogue Raisonné

    Focillon 13.26; Robison 148.30 i/vi; Hind 25.3 i/iii; Wilton-Ely I.52.28

  • See also