★ Imaginary Prisons
The prison is a series of 16 engravings by the Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi in the 18th century. They represent a huge underground vaults with stairs and mighty machines.
These images influenced romanticism and surrealism. While the Vedutists, or "creators of the view" such as Canaletto and Bellotto, most often reveled in the beauty of a sunlit place, Piranesis vision takes on what, from a modern point of view, might be called a Kafkaesque distortion, seemingly erecting fantastic labyrinthine structures, epic in scope. These are capricci, whimsical aggregates of monumental architecture and ruins.
The series was started in 1745. The first state engravings were published in 1750 and consisted of 14 engravings, without a title and without a number, with a sketch view. The original prints were 16 "x 21". Piranesi reworked the drawings ten years later. For the second edition in 1761, all the engravings were revised and numbered I-XVI 1-16. Numbers II and V were new engravings in the series. Rooms from I to IX were made in vertical portrait format, and from X to XVI-in horizontal landscape format. Although they do not have a name, their usual names are
Thomas de Quincey, in Confessions of an English opium Eater, 1820, wrote as follows
Many years ago, when I was looking at the Roman antiquities of piranesis, Mr. Coleridge, who was standing next to me, described to me a set of plates by This artist. some of them I describe only from the recollections of Mr. Coleridge, representing vast Gothic halls, on the floor of which stood all sorts of machines and mechanisms, wheels, cables, pulleys, levers, catapults, etc., a receptacle, an expression of immense force pushed forward and resistance overcome. Stealthily along the walls, you noticed a staircase, and on it, groping his way up, stood Piranesi himself; a little further along the staircase, you see that it suddenly ends, having no balustrade and allowing no one to approach him.
In the second publication, some illustrations were apparently edited to contain probably intentional impossible geometries.
A deep analysis of Piranesis Carceri was written by Margarita Jurkenar in her dark brain Piranesi: and Other Essays 1984. Further discussion of Piranesi and Carceri can be found in John Wilton-Elys 1978 book the mind and art of Giovanni Battista Piranesi. Piranesis style was imitated by a twentieth-century forger, Eric Hebborn.
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