Piranesi as Designer

You will say that I am imagining buildings in my own fashion. But just imagine one in your fashion. Show me…anyone who thinks that he has conceived a wonderful design for a building, and I warrant that he will look more foolish than the man who works to please himself.

—Piranesi, from Parere su l’architettura, 1765

About the Exhibition

Piranesi as Designer: Installation Shot

SEPTEMBER 14, 2007–JANUARY 20, 2008

Although Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) is best known today as the supreme master of the art of etching, his early training and lifelong concerns as an architect and designer were essential to his brilliance and versatility. His chosen profession as architect was the dominating factor throughout a highly productive career of nearly forty years, which included not only the graphic arts, archaeology, and polemical debate, but also interior design, decorative arts, and the restoration of classical antiquities.

The impact he had on subsequent generations of architects and designers was profound. His manifold influence continued throughout the nineteenth century, evident in both architecture and stage design, and then reemerged in twentieth-century film-set design. Today, Piranesi’s ideas have surfaced in the work of leading architects such as the Postmodernists Michael Graves, Robert A. M. Stern, and Robert Venturi and Denise Scott Brown, as well as in the Deconstructivist work of Peter Eisenman and Daniel Libeskind, whose videotaped interviews and own architectural projects are included at the end of the exhibition.

Piranesi as Designer is the first museum exhibition to present Piranesi’s full range and significance as a designer, by means of etchings, original drawings, and objects. The core of this exhibition has been drawn from the riches of the Smithsonian Institution and from New York City public collections, most notably from the Cooper-Hewitt, Morgan, and Avery Libraries. Featured alongside these drawings is an unprecedented display of objects gathered from prestigious collections around the world, especially the magnificent chimneypiece and pier table from the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam. Together, this testament to Piranesi’s continuing influence eloquently conveys the impact of historic design on the present.

Photo: Virginie Blachère