sobota 10. ledna 2015



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 Much to my surprise at the end of last year I began to see posters for a Piranesi exhibition in Prague. I immediately though who and why had someone decided to introduce this seminal Italian etcher to a wider Czech public. I had always associated his works with regions west of the Czech Republic.

One of the handsome tile stoves
 I have finally had a chance to see the exhibition and was not disappointed at all. Shown in the appropriately fitting surrounding of the Clam Gallas palace the curators have done their best to bring Piranesi‘s baroque impressions to life in a realistic setting. The original ceiling high tile stoves in the exhibition rooms which have elements of classical architecture complement the engravings of the classical buildings being shown. The Clam Gallas palace itself was inspired by engravings such as these alluding to the grandeur of aristocratic residences. Much of the exhibition is from Czech collections.

McMansion ?

Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s work is presented in its full spectrum covering almost all the major themes he depicted. Each   theme is displayed in a different room from his maps of imaginary cities to his romantic ruins and to the detailed engravings of antiquities.

A bit of  Wedgewood inspired heating

                His “views or Vedute“ are some of his famous works on show. They represent mythical cities and lands where fantasy and reality mix in an almost comical manner. His cities are places that were once glorious but whose  monumental building  are falling apart .Many of the cityscapes in the exhibit depict what was or could have been Rome of the 18th century ,the way the  grand tourists saw it. Needless to say this connection to the grand tourists has been one of the keys to his long lasting popularity.

A city that once was.
 For Piranesi architecture in all forms is a lot more important than people as if reminding viewer that “’people die but buildings are immortal “.Piranesi’s buildings are in fact vast structures most often in the classical example of ancient Rome. His fortresses show strength; his palaces give the impression of power, while the bridges he engraved leave one feeling there is a link to the past. And if his allusions to ancient Rome are not enough he added symbols from old Egypt to reinforce the message. Last but not least all his buildings tower over his human subjects reducing them to tiny details within the whole composition.

The Colosseum as experienced by the  grand tourist.
 People in his engraving are almost always men, often ragged and wretched and shown in a state of utter misery. The vagrants, beggars and vagabonds all seem to be in a state of commotion or physical despair, pointing to towards an illusionary source of help. They are lost characters trying to escape doom .The few who are not falling into some sort of hell all look like the aristocrats who might have bought Piranesi’s engravings. Since at the time there were few female grand tourists, women appear only as hints of Greek goddesses.

Something industrial.

 A whole room is dedicated to his depictions of concocted prisons which he was famous for. These truly “gothic “images of water filled dungeons bring to mind a sort of illustration for Franz Kafka’s work who grew up right behind the corner.

Piramide di Caio Cestio.

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The exhibit is a much needed temporary addition to the local cultural scene and is especially rewarding in the interiors of the Clam Gallas palace  .It is easy to see how he influenced successive generations of artists  from the Romantics  to the Victorians to the more recent surrealists.

The grand staircase of the Clam Gallas Palace