The Discovery of Piranesi's Final Project
Stephen Lauf



...could then turn into a compelling spy-story of international intrigues: Piranèse-mystère: The secret of the missing manuscripts...
Mario Bevilacqua, Piranesi 1778. Ricerche Interrotte, Opere Perdute15



3 July 2022
Last Sunday I decided to find out whatever I could about Piranesi's activities in 1778. Scott deduces Piranesi, along with Francesco, Mori and Rosa, went to Naples and Paestum one last time late 1777 or spring 1778,16 yet Wilton-Ely finds the evidence to support exactly such a group journey meager.17 The date of such a nonetheless likely journey probably does not matter since the imprimatur for the Paestum series was received 15 September 177818, which means Piranesi's workshop was very busy with Paestum series work during the first eight months of 1778. As already mentioned, MacDonald and Pinto deduce the plan of Hadrian's Villa was being etched on copper plates also in 1778. Plus, "Piranesi and his thriving workshop had begun to issue plates of antiquities as a form of advertisement, Eventually some 110 of these were collected into two volumes published as Vasi, Candelabri, Cippi, Sarcofagi in 1778."19 "In May 1778 [Piranesi] sent a letter to a friend enclosing a sketch [dated 12 May 1778] of some idiosyncratic ideas for his own funeral monument,"20 and, after an absence of six years, Piranesi attended a meeting at the Accademis di S. Luca in October 1778.21 Piranesi's workshop in 1778 seems to have been busy enough, but there is also the suggestion that Piranesi was nevertheless beginning to think about how he would like to be memorialized.

11 July 2022
Always more to think about. What was Francesco doing in 1778? For sure Francesco was busy with Paestum and Villa Adriani work, if not supervising all that work in general. Furthermore, Francesco may well have been in charge of compiling the two Vasi, Candelabri, Cippi, Sarcofagi volumes, and, as already suggested here, carrying out further site survey work at the Circus of Caracalla and likely making visits to Hadrian's Villa as well. Also, were the etchings Piranesi produced for Robert and James Adam, which state "Published as the Act directs 1778" likewise etched in 1778? "Four plates etched by Piranesi on the basis of drawings sent to him from London by Robert Adam, illustrating portions of the entrance hall and anteroom he had decorated in 1761 at Syon House, residence of the Duke of Northumberland near London. The date of the engravings is unknown, but is generally assumed to fall between 1762 and 1764. The four plates were published in Volume II of the Works in Architecture by Robert and James Adam, London, 177[9]."22 The question as to when the Adam plates were etched remains, and, in the off chance that the plates were done in 1778, it would not surprise me, judging by the overall style of the engravings, if hands other than Piranesi's did the bulk of the etching, possibly the hands of Francesco, Laura, and/or even Benedetto Mori. In any case, it's highly likely that Piranesi shared many of his Robert Adam memories with Laura as they busily erased all the circuses within the 'Ichnographia Campus Martius' plates.



15. Mario Bevilacqua, "Piranesi 1778. Ricerche interrotte, opere perdute" in V. Cazzato, S. Roberto, M. Bevilacqua (a cura di), Il teatro delle arti. Saggi in onore di Marcello Fagiolo per 50 anni di studi, II, Roma, Gangemi 2014, p. 797.
16. Jonathan Scott, Piranesi (London: Academy Editions, 1975), p. 254.
17. John Wilton-Ely, The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978), p. 117.
18. Luigi Ficacci, Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings (Cologne: Taschen, 2000), p. 664.
19. John Wilton-Ely, The Mind and Art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (London: Thames and Hudson, 1978), p. 117.
20. Jonathan Scott, Piranesi (London: Academy Editions, 1975), pp. 251 and 318.
21. Ibid, p. 246.
22. Luigi Ficacci, Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings (Cologne: Taschen, 2000), p. 494. Ficassi mistakenly dates the publication of Volume II of Works in Architecture as 1778.




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