Images of Frustrated Architect

The Journal (Newcastle, England), June 5, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Images of Frustrated Architect

Byline: By David Whetstone

Images which have exerted a powerful influence on generations of artists, architects and film-makers go on show in the North-East this week at the start of a national tour.

You will find etchings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi in the British Museum and a host of famous galleries. But you suspect they could also find pride of place on a teenager's wall.

They show fantastic interiors with huge beams, walkways in the sky, towering ladders and staircases with no obvious means of support. There are mysterious entrances and large areas hidden in dark shadow.

Tiny figures, completely dwarfed by the massive vaulted roofs, climb the endless staircases and cower in the gloom.

Clare Carolin, from the Hayward Gallery in London, which organised the exhibition, was helping to hang the Piranesi prints at the University of Northumbria Gallery this week. "Piranesi has been hugely influential, particularly among set designers," she said. "There was a famous film version of Oliver Twist directed by David Lean (released in 1948) and you can see from his vision of London that he was influenced by these prints." Fans of the Harry Potter films might also see shades of Hogwarts in the startling 250-year-old images. "And it's the same with Blade Runner," suggested Clare.

She is also working on an exhibition called Fantastic Architecture, which is to open at the Northern Gallery for Contemporary Art in Sunderland. It will show that Piranesi fits into a tradition of fantasy building design dating back to medieval times. Piranesi (1720-78) was born in Venice, the son of a stonemason. He was taught drawing and engineering by relatives and studied architecture and stage design.

In 1740 he moved to Rome to learn how to etch. He returned to Venice five years later, hoping to establish himself as an architect.

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