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8 December 2022

Boijmans offers rare opportunity to see delicate Piranesi prints

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. On 14 November, a start will be made on mounting ‘Piranesi on paper’, the presentation of research into all Piranesi prints in the museum collection. Piranesi is the most famous graphic artist 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. Print curator 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’ from 2 December 2022 to 5 March 2023 in Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen and in an online research catalogue.

Cathy Jacob, director of exhibitions, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: “In the depot, we are able to perform important research, but also think up new ways of revealing research to the public. In this way, the visitor is also given ownership of everything that is housed and takes place in the depot. ‘Piranesi on paper’ brings together those two worlds. We are grateful to the Mondrian Fund for enabling Mireille to undertake this. And now we can let the public experience the amazing technique of Piranesi.”

Mireille Linck, print curator, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: “Piranesi was, with his exceptionally high production, a maniac in his medium. For months on ends, I sat in a dark room, inspecting his prints through a magnifying glass, looking for watermarks. Using this watermark study, we can date his work more precisely and determine the origin of the paper. Piranesi’s versatility appeals to the imagination, even today. Architects, book printers, archaeologists: I think that many still find inspiration in his work.”

Sandra Kisters, director of collection and research, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen: "The results of the research remain available online in the Piranesi on paper online research catalogue after the depot presentation. We support the scientific open access principle; the free distribution of scientific information for (inter)national enthusiasts and professionals."

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.

Public mounting
During the mounting of the exhibition, the public can watch it all in the depot. Depot employees can inform the visitors about the progress, but also show how the extremely valuable works must be mounted with the utmost care. The presentation contains new elements, such as modular plinths, specially designed for this and future presentations in the depot by Phil Procter.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi
Giovanni Battista Piranesi was a multi-faceted artist, trained as architect and an outstanding print maker and trader. He produced an enormous number of graphics, 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 print books. 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.