Parting Shots

Piranesi used publishing to settle personal scores and orchestrated sales through personal correspondence.

Ever the entrepreneur, Piranesi worked to control the market for his books. For several years after he arrived in Rome, he did not own his own shop or printing premises. Instead he worked with other printers, publishers, and dealers who helped him produce and promote his art. In 1761, he moved to his own premises, a house near the Spanish Steps. The location became famous across Europe as a place to buy Piranesi’s books, prints, and other wares, which included ancient sculptural fragments as well as furniture fashioned in part from antique pieces.

After Piranesi’s death in 1778, his sons took over the business. Though they continued some of their father’s time-honored marketing strategies, writing letters and using catalogs to spur sales, they also fundamentally changed the family business. They kept printing from their father’s copperplates, but they also took on other publication projects. Most importantly, they eventually stopped producing their father’s books as books, and made the images alone the center of their business. Their decisions were the first step toward the modern conception of Piranesi primarily as a printmaker rather than someone who made books. Collectors who valued Piranesi’s images over his texts, often with disastrous results, contributed to this perception.

His strategies worked: Piranesi became the most successful printmaker in Rome.