Piranesi on Paper
Presentation in the depot of new research demonstrates productive burst by eighteenth-century Italian artist Piranesi. The source of inspiration for Escher and Kafka is also recognisable in the steps of the depot building itself.
The work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) appears to have become reality in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen; when entering the building, the eye wanders upwards through the maze of the stairways. ‘Piranesi on Paper’ is a presentation of research into all Piranesi's prints in the museum collection. Piranesi is the most famous printmaker of his time and this study project focuses on his world of paper. The research and the presentation not only show the extensive collection of prints by the Italian artist, but also reveal his decisions as living, travelling maker, trader, and his bustling work-place.
Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen has, with 751 works, the most extensive collection of Piranesi prints in the Dutch museum world. The works are extremely sensitive to light and highly vulnerable and will only be exhibited for three months, after which they will not be shown for three years because they must ‘rest’. So this is a rare opportunity to admire Piranesi prints. Curator of Prints Mireille Linck was able to undertake the two-year research project thanks to the Erfgoedtalentbeurs (Heritage Talent Fund) of the Mondrian Fund. The results are on show in ‘Piranesi on Paper’ in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen and in an online research catalogue.
Story behind the watermark
The prints are printed on handmade paper from the eighteenth century, all with a watermark that is unique to the paper mill where the paper was produced. From this, we can, for example, deduce where Piranesi got his materials. The watermark study gives insight into the work process of Piranesi and is not only important for dating the prints, but also for distinguishing them from reprints. New knowledge has been gained about his paper usage, his work during his life and how his children continued his work after his death. It also produced some surprises, such as the discovery of a watermark that was previously unknown.
Giovanni Battista Piranesi
Giovanni Battista Piranesi was a multi-faceted artist, trained as architect and an outstanding printmaker and trader. He produced an enormous number of etchings, particularly during the last thirty years of his life. More than a thousand individual etchings were produced, which is an average production of 2.3 prints a month. These etchings were published as series and in books of prints. The ‘Vedute di Roma’, his famous print series with impressive views of Rome, are also incorporated in this presentation in an interactive online map of the city. Piranesi’s most celebrated prints are the ‘Carceri’ (dungeons or prisons). These imaginary spaces that seem to have no end inspired many other artists - M.C. Escher, for example, was a great admirer, but so too were the surrealists, and writers such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Edgar Allen Poe, Jorge Luis Borges and Franz Kafka.
Below a map op Rome with various works of Piranesi highlighted. Rome was the artist's greatest source of inspiration, reflected in many of his works.