Making Pages

Antichità Romane, vol. 3, pl. XIV. Rome: A Rotilj, 1756

How did Piranesi become a maker of books?

When he came to Rome, he and a group of pensionnaires, or students, from the French Academy explored the city’s ancient ruins. Piranesi sought design training, but it was not easy to convert his experiences sketching with friends into employment. As his professional network of artists, scholars, and collectors grew, he learned the material, intellectual, and commercial demands of printing and publishing books.

In the early 1740s, Piranesi began contributing small vedute (city views) to the books of others, selling copperplates he had etched to Roman guidebook publishers. He published his first book, the Prima parte di architetture e prospettive, in 1743, citing Rome’s “speaking ruins,” along with earlier authors, as his inspiration for the scenes of fantastical structures. In the short essay that accompanied the prints, Piranesi complained about his lack of opportunities to build. Books offered an alternative career path, a place to invest creative energy outside of building.

Piranesi also began to make large city views. The Vedute di Roma were his most commercially successful prints. They also are an early sign of Piranesi thinking like a bookmaker, because customers could buy a title sheet to group their individual sheets into a volume.

Books offered an alternative career path, a place to invest creative energy outside of building.