Giovanni Battista Piranesi was an architect and engraver, greatly dedicated to the study of ancient architecture. He was mostly captivated by Rome, although Pompeii and Herculaneum, the newly discovered sites that have become a great fascination for archaeologists, also sparked his interest.
Piranesi expressed these interests in numerous copperplate engravings and etchings. In his engravings he depicted buildings that he could no longer see, but of which he could only present an image deduced from the study of preserved fragments. Combining the study of ancient architecture with his imagination, the artist created unique compositions of a fantastic nature.
Tav. IV Rovine d’un antico Sepolcro fatto a modo di settizonio su la via Appia: this engraving comes from Antichità d'Albano e di Castel Gandolfo’s work, published in Rome in 1764. Piranesi created the engravings contained therein after his journey to Lake Albano, which took place between 1758 and 1759. The engraving shows a fragment of an ancient road – the Via Appia. There is a tomb monument, probably dating back to the 1st century A.D. on one side, while on the other there is Villa Altieri with a visible portal. The entrance gate to the city is visible in the background. The buildings depicted by Piranesi are monumental ruins. Strong chiaroscuro contrasts enhance this impression, while the vegetation overgrowing the ruins adds a romantic touch.
Piranesi’s works are extraordinary – not only because of their fantastic character and the dialogue they enter into with ancient architecture. The engravings reflect the 18th-century intellectuals’ fascination and capture the spirit of that age while anticipating the next.