Giovanni Battista Piranesi, ‘The Round Tower, from 'Carceri d'invenzione' (Imaginary Prisons)’, ca. 1749–1750, The Metropolitan Museum of Art

publisher: Giovanni Bouchard (French, ca. 1716–1795); sheet: 24 13/16 x 19 1/2 in. (63 x 49.5 cm); plate: 21 7/16 x 16 5/16 in. (54.5 x 41.5 cm)

Image rights: The Metropolitan Museum of Art (Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1937), licensed under CC0 1.0 Universal

About Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Printmaker, engraver, and antiquarian Giovanni Battista Piranesi once said: “I need to produce great ideas, and I believe that if I were commissioned to design a new universe, I would be mad enough to undertake it.” This would prove an apt description of the fantastical architectural prints he became famous for. An ardent lover of Roman, Greek, and Egyptian architecture, Piranesi was the son of a stonemason and builder, and first studied drawing with his uncle, an engineer. (In fact, Piranesi considered himself an architect.) His drawings and etchings demonstrate a sophisticated ability in manipulating perspective and architectural elements for dramatic effect. Piranesi’s subjects not only included imaginings of ancient buildings, but also ominous prisons and mysterious ruins. His works were so popular that the prints were sold to Grand Tourists even after his death.

Italian, 1720-1778, Mogliano, Italy, based in Rome, Italy