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Various Roman Ionic capitals compared with Greek examples from Le Roy [S. Maria in Trastevere, S. Paoplo fuori le Mura, S. Clemente, etc.], from Della Magnificenza e d'Architettura de'Romani (On the Grandeur and the Architecture of the Romans by Gio. Battista Piranesi, Fellow of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of London), tab. 20

Della Magnificenza e d'Architettura de'Romani
Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, Mogliano Veneto 1720–1778 Rome)
mid-18th century
Plate: 15 3/4 x 23 9/16 in. (40 x 59.8 cm) Sheet: 21 1/4 x 31 1/2 in. (54 x 80 cm)
Prints, Ornament & Architecture
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, Transferred from the Library, 1941
Accession Number:
Not on view
In 1758, the French architect Julien-David Le Roy published 'Les ruines des plus beaux monuments de la Grèce' (The ruins of the most beautiful monuments of Greece) in which he proclaimed that the architectural orders were a Greek invention inherited by the Romans who imitated and subsequently debased them. Le Roy wrote of the Roman Composite order, "[I]t is only a fairly imperfect mixture of the Ionic and Corinthian and by altering the proportions of the column from the Doric order and by multiplying the moldings of its entablature, they have perhaps made it lose a lot of its male character, which was a distinguishing feature in Greece." Partly in response to such contemporary polemical salvos touting the significance of Greek architecture, including Marc-Antoine Laugier's 'Essai sur l'architecture' (1753), which demonstrated the evolution of wood to stone architecture as exemplified by the Greek Doric temple, in 1761 Piranesi published 'Della magnificenza ed architettura de' romani' (Concerning the magnificense and architecture of the Romans). Piranesi's lengthy essay in Italian and Latin expressed his conviction of the superiority of Etruscan design and was accompanied by thirty-eight engraved illustrations, including this foldout of Roman Ionic capitals. In the plate, Piranesi has surrounded Le Roy's own engraving of a capital from the Erechtheion in Athens with an elaborate array of more complex Roman variants. At the top of the plate is a quote from Le Roy: "The Ionic capitals one sees in Rome seem poor and defective," to which Piranesi responds by illustrating many of the "magnificent" Ionic capitals of Rome.
Inscription: At upper right: 'Tab. XX.'
Descriptions throughout
At bottom center: 'A. Capitulum aedis Erichtei 1, 2, 3 Architectura ejusdem aedis. 4. Aedicula, quae Lantenna Demosthenis nuncupatur. 5. Genus cotumnarum dorica: / rum aedis Apollinis Deliaci. 5. Idem aedificium, quod notatur num. 3.'
At lower right: 'Piranesi F.'
Hind 84-85; Focillon 949; Giesecke 117; Wilton-Ely II.848.780
Arthur M. Hind Giovanni Battista Piranesi: A Critical Study of his Published Works and Detailed Catalogues of the Prisons and the Views of Rome. London, 1922, cat. no. 84-85.

Henri Focillon Giovanni-Battista Piranesi essai de catalogue raisonné de son oeuvre. Paris, 1964, cat. no. 949.

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