When he was twenty-three, Piranesi made this preparatory study for an etching. The etching was published as part of a series of architectural and perspective images. He combined arches, pedestals, columns, bridges, and sculptures in an imaginative reconstruction of monumental and complex classical architecture. Piranesi took a creative approach when he made architectural fantasies like this one, using antique ruins as his point of departure. On this process he wrote:

These speaking ruins have filled my spirit with images that accurate drawings, even such as those of the immortal Palladio, could never have succeeded in conveying, though I always kept them before my eyes.

Piranesi first drew the main outlines of the architecture in chalk, then added brown and red wash for shading and details. Small figures in boats are indicated with broad strokes of wash. Varying tones of wash and rapid, squiggly lines evoke atmospheric conditions. A squaring in black chalk lines helped the artist transfer his design to the etching plate.


  • Title: An Ancient Port
  • Creator: Giovanni Battista Piranesi
  • Date Created: 1749–1750
  • Location Created: Italy
  • Physical Dimensions: 38.4 × 52.9 cm (15 1/8 × 20 13/16 in.)
  • Type: Drawing
  • External Link: Find out more about this object on the Museum website.
  • Medium: Red and black chalk and brown and reddish wash, squared in black chalk
  • Terms of Use: Open Content
  • Number: 88.GB.18
  • Culture: Italian
  • Credit Line: The J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles
  • Creator Display Name: Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720 - 1778)
  • Classification: Drawings (Visual Works)

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