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Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Francesco Piranesi, (1756–1810)

Francesco Piranesi, (Italian, 1756–1810) was the eldest son and heir of the famous Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Instructed in both engraving and architecture by his father, he was both engraving his own works of art and assisting his father's work by 1775.

Upon the death of Giovanni Piranesi, three years later, he acquired his father's publishing house and was responsible for printing most of the later editions of his prints.

In the following years, Francesco Piranesi built his reputation primarily upon his engravings of antique statuary.

In 1798, the revolution drove him to Paris. He was later employed by Napoleon's government to engrave the antique vases and statues in collections in France and within French occupied Italy.

He collaborated with the French artist Louis-Jean Desprez on a series of views of Naples, Rome, and Pompeii, advertised in 1783 as “dessins coloriés” and sold at Piranesi’s shop in Rome. Although the 1783 advertisement promised forty-eight views, the series was not completed before Desprez left Rome to enter the employ of the Swedish king, Gustav III.

Piranesi, Francesco (1758-1810).
The Eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 1779


Piranesi, Francesco (1758-1810).
View of Vesuvius by Day


Francesco Piranesi (Italian, 1756–1810) and Louis-Jean Desprez (French, 1743–died Stockholm 1804)
The Fireworks Above Castel Sant’Angelo
Etching with watercolor and gouache, 1781 or 1783
New York Public Library


Francesco Piranesi (Italian, 1756–1810) and Louis-Jean Desprez (French, 1743–died Stockholm 1804)
The Girandola at the Castel Sant'Angelo, ca. 1783
Etching with colored washes; 27 5/8 x 19 in. (70.2 x 48.3 cm) (sheet)
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York



Beginning in 1471, the papacy sponsored a spectacular fireworks display, called the Girandola, at the Castel Sant'Angelo. Re-created whenever a new pope was elected or crowned as well as on Easter and June 28, the eve of the Feast of Saints Peter and Paul, the Girandola was popular with local audiences and tourists alike.

Toward the end of the 18th century, such pyrotechnic extravaganzas also were an expression of the sublime, where terror mixed with pleasure. Erupting volcanoes stirred up similar emotions, and in art and in literature at this time there was a close connection between nature’s fireworks, specifically volcanoes, and the manmade equivalent.