Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Excerpt

IT IS A LITTLE DISCOURAGING TO WRITE ABOUT PIRANESI BEcause there once existed two accounts of his life which, if they ever come to light, will supersede much that has been printed about him. The most important of these accounts is his autobiography which was written on "a bundle of many pages." A year after his death his first biographer mentioned this bundle and aggravates our regret at its disappearance by saying that Piranesi's life, if all could be told, would make a book as tumultuous as Cellini's.

The second account was a life written by Piranesi's sons from their father's autobiography and from their own recollection. In 1798 the sons took this manuscript to Paris where a Frenchman drew on it for a biography that still exists in manuscript at the Bibliothèque Nationale. By the late 1820's the sons' manuscript had come to a London publisher who flirted with the idea of printing it. Nothing came of this project but a partial paraphrase in The Library of the Fine Arts for August, 1831. The autobiography may well be lost, but the sons' manuscript could turn up tomorrow in some English country house or on a back shelf in the Bodleian Library.

The sources that remain tell little about Piranesi's youth and almost nothing about his ancestors. His family might have come from the town of Pirano in Istria since he often wrote his name in the adjectival form of Piranese. Giovanni Battista was born on October 4, 1720, at a village called Mojano or Mogliano near Mestre and was christened a month and four days later at Venice, about ten miles away. Since parents rarely waited so long to baptize a baby, his father, Angelo Piranese, may have been taken out of his home parish by his work as a stone mason. His mother, Laura Lucchesi, was the sister of Matteo Lucchesi, a civil engineer and architect who is said to have been the boy's first instructor in the art of building. This uncle Matteo worked in one of the most important departments of the Venetian state, the Magistrato delle Acque, that had charge of harbor constructions. In the last years of the Republic, Venice built few new houses or churches but was constantly repairing and constructing docks, bridges and sea walls. Just a little before the last doge abdicated Venice carried through one of the greatest public works in . . .

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