- Museum number
Study of an ornamental sword for the decorative pilasters on the façade of S Maria del Priorato, in Rome
Pen and brown ink, with revisions to the design in black chalk
- Production date
Height: 147 millimetres
Width: 55 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- In 1764 Piranesi was commissioned by monsignor Giovanni Battista Rezzonico, the Grand Prior of the Order of the Knights of Malta and the nephew of Pope Clement XIII, to renovate and enlarge the Order's church of S. Maria del Priorato on the Aventine in Rome. This and a drawing in the Morgan Library, New York (1966.11.52; illustrated in colour as no. 39 in the 1998 catalogue) are the only known studies for the decoration of the façade of the church. The London drawing is a study for the ornamental sword and scabbard on the far right and the Morgan Library one for the relief on the far left. The BM drawing is, unlike the New York one, a rejected design. Piranesi must have altered the design of the rightmost relief at a relatively late stage because it is shown in a form corresponding to the BM design in the Sir John Soane Museum copy after a lost finished elevation of the façade (this is illustrated in the "Apollo" article as fig. 11). The Knights of Malta's twin function as a military and a medical order is alluded to by the combination of a serpent entwined around the scabbard. The serpent had a special significance in this context as it was a creature sacred to the Ancient Roman goddess Bona Dea, a patron of healing, whose shrine was said to have been on the site of the priory. Furthermore this area of the Aventine was known as the 'monte dello serpente' (mount of the snake) because they were regarded as sacred creatures to the cult of Juno Regina, whose temple once stood on the site of the nearby church of S. Sabina.
Lit.: H. Thomas, 'The Drawings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi', London, 1954, under no. 46; E. Croft-Murray, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Giovanni Battista Piranesi', 1968, no. 180; J. Wilton-Ely, 'Piranesian symbols on the Aventine', "Apollo" CIII, March 1976, p. 220, fig.14; idem, in exhib. cat., London, South Bank, 'Piranesi', 1978, no. 310b; A. Bettagno, in exhib. cat., Venice, Fondazione Cini, 'Disegni di Giambattista Piranesi', 1978, no. 42; F. Stampfle, 'Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Drawings in the Pierpont Morgan Library', New York, 1978, under no. 52; J. Wilton-Ely, in exhib. cat., Rome, Santa Maria del Priorato, 'Piranesi e l'Aventino', 1998, no. 40
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1968 BM, 'Piranesi', no. 37
1978 Aug-Oct, Venice, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, 'Piranesi', no. 42
1978 London, Hayward Gallery, 'Piranesi', no. 310b
1998 Sep-Dec, Rome, Grand Priory of Rome, 'Piranesi'
2007/8 Sep-Jan, New York, Cooper-Hewitt Museum, 'Piranesi as Designer'
2008 Feb-May, Haarlem, Teylers Museum, 'Piranesi as Designer'
2020 20 Feb-9 Aug, London, BM, 'Piranesi drawings'.
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number