An important part of the museum’s collection of prints is formed by the almost two hundred etchings done by the Italian artist and architect, Giovanni Battista Piranesi. He transferred his dreams and fantasies into a major series of etchings. Even during his lifetime these earned him great fame. Initially, he limited his work to making romantic impressions of vast ruins from Roman antiquity. Later he made his own architectural creations on paper, works with a stunning and terrifying impact – especially the series 'Carceri’ (dungeons). They conjure up immense buildings through which staircases wind endlessly and a human being is a miniscule detail becoming more and more insignificant. The hallucinatory nature of these works is strengthened by the fact that the perspective makes the scene increasingly complicated and impenetrable.

Piranesi’s famous print series the Carceri the museum owns both the first state (1749-50) and the second state (1761). Complete sets of the first state are especially rare. The series consists of fourteen prints, to which two more were added in the second series. For this second state Piranesi drastically revised the images and etched them much more deeply, enhancing the dramatic effect. These large prints of terrifying monumental dungeons show the brilliant technique and imagination of Piranesi.


  • Title: The Drawbridge
  • Date Created: circa 1749 - 1750
  • Physical Dimensions: w550 x h406 mm
  • Original Title: Carceri d'invenzione
  • Engraver: Giovanni Battista Piranesi
  • Additional Artwork Information: Piranesi’s prints are well represented in the museum’s collection. Many of them were acquired through the generosity of the collector J.C.J. Bierens de Haan, who in 1936 donated ninety-seven sheets from the Vedute di Roma, a series of impressive views of monumental Roman ruins. At his death in 1951, the museum also received Bierens de Haan’s extensive collection of prints (26,000 sheets) and disposal over Stichting Lucas van Leyden, a trust established for the acquisition of graphic art. The following year, director Ebbinge Wubben used funds from the trust to buy two complete series of Piranesi’s renowned Carceri, both the rare first-state prints executed in 1750, and the second state of 1761. Piranesi had studied architecture and his Carceri, the Prisons, are imaginative evocations of space. He created a nightmarish underworld of menacing caverns with a profusion of staircases, gates, bridges and chains. These architectural structures are composed of massive stone blocks arranged in rhythmic patterns, intersected by the diagonal lines of ladders, suspended cables and countless arches. The tiny figures wandering through them, some flailing their arms, signify man’s insignificance.
  • Type: Print
  • Rights: Purchase with the support of Lucas van Leyden Foundation 1952
  • External Link: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
  • Medium: Etching

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