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Art & Design

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Vaulted Building with a Staircase, ca. 1745-1750, Jesse Metcalf Fund

Giovanni Battista Piranesi Jean Bouchard

Vaulted Building with a Staircase

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, designer Italian, 1720-1778
Jean Bouchard, publisher
Invenzioni Capric di Carceri, ca. 1745-1750
Etching on paper
Plate: 54.1 x 41.4 cm (21 5/16 x 16 5/16 inches)
Jesse Metcalf Fund 47.154.3

This dramatic depiction of a vast interior space demonstrates Piranesi’s command of perspective, light, and tone. One of fourteen sheets in a series depicting imaginary prisons, Vaulted Building with a Staircase combines the artist’s interests in fantastic architecture, archaeology, and stage design. The unfathomable space, seemingly endless corridors, and great contrasts of dark and light imbue the scene with the sense of both physical and psychological captivity and force the viewer to confront the potential unknown. Etching, a printmaking technique that allows for fluid, draftsmanlike marks, was a suitable medium for Piranesi’s arcane and highly personal works. Created on sheets of unusually large size for the period, Piranesi’s prisons found a select audience among the many travelers on the Grand Tour seeking souvenirs of their visit to Rome.

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