- Museum number
Roman ruins including tombs and vases, near a pyramid
Pen and brown ink, brown wash, over black and some red chalk
- Production date
- 1745-1746 (circa)
Height: 254 millimetres
Width: 183 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- As Robison first noted the present composition is somewhat similar to two plates of the 'Prima Parte' of 1743-9: the title plate in state IV (for the sixth edition) and pl. 5 (J. Wilton-Ely, 'Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the complete etchings', San Francisco, 1994, I, nos. 2, p. 21 and 18). The correspondence between the prints and the drawing is not all that close, although they share in common the shadowy foreground and the conceit of diminutive figures dwarfed by classical ruins. In view of the differences it is open to debate whether the BM study can be strictly called a study for either the 'Prima Parte' plates, nonetheless it clearly dates from around the same period. The play of transparent veils of wash with the untouched whiteness of the paper is reminiscent of Giovanni Battista Tiepolo's pen-and-wash drawings, works which Piranesi evidently came into contact with during his return to Venice in 1745-7.
The theme of overgrown ruins among trees shows Piranesi's admiration for prints of this type by Salvator Rosa, GB Tiepolo and, even closer in type, those of G.B. Castiglione (note, for example, "The Genius of Castiglione", 1645-7, with its overgrown cinerary urn and sculpted bust framed by a spray of vegetation). This drawing can also be linked to Piranesi's work on his own "Grotteschi" series of etchings, such as the "Tomb of Nero" (Nevola fig. 163). However, the links with the etching are much stronger in a similarly-composed drawing (albeit slightly more tentative in style) in the National Gallery of Art, Washington DC (inv. 1979.6.1). Currently given to Piranesi in full on the NGA website, it is attributed to him by Nevola, and in both places dated to c.1747.
Both drawings show decorative tombstones, sarcophagi or urns along with fragments of antique architecture, with excessively small human figures added to exaggerate the scale of the antiquities. The BM drawing also features a large pine tree, which reappears in much small proportions in the background of the "Tomb of Nero". The prominent urn, however, can be more directly linked to the "Prima Parte" plate, as a similar antiquity appears on the title page. The sarcophagus with its curved base also appears in the "Vestiggi d'antichi Edifici" in the "Prima Parte" series. This multiplicity of visual references testifies to the numerous explorations that Piranesi was making on the theme of antique remnants at this period, only a few of which ultimately found expression in the "Grotteschi" and "Prima Parte" series.
Lit.: E. Croft-Murray, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Giovanni Battista Piranesi', 1968, no. 89; A. Robison, 'Piranesi: early architectural fantasies, a catalogue raisonné of the etchings', Chicago and London, 1986, p. 23, fig. 41, and under nos. 1 and 16; F. Nevola, "Giovanni Battista Piranesi: I Grotteschi", Rome: Ugo Bozzi, 2010, pp. 194-5, fig. 150.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1968 BM, 'Piranesi', no. 19
1978 Jun-Oct, NG Washington, 'Piranesi'
2020 20 Feb-9 Aug, London, BM, 'Piranesi drawings'.
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number