- Museum number
A frontispiece design incorporating two skeletons in front of a tomb
Pen and brown ink, brown wash, over black chalk
- Production date
- 1746-7 (circa)
Height: 279 millimetres
Width: 197 millimetres
- Curator's comments
- The influence of G.B. Tiepolo has often been noted, and it most likely dates from around 1747 - either towards at the end of his two year stay in Venice, or soon after his return to Rome. The fluid penwork and assured use of wash recall Piranesi's studies for the 'Grotteschi' of 1747 (a series of four plates much influenced by G.B. Tiepolo's 'Capricci' etchings) in the Morgan Library, New York, and in the National Gallery of Art, Washington (Robison, 1986, figs 28-9 and 32).
The smear of white paint at the centre of the right edge mentioned by Thomas is illusionary.
The theme of the drawing is closely linked to the plate from the "Grotteschi" popularly known as "Gli Scheletri" (see an impression in the British Museum's collection, 910,1128.4). While the poses are not comparable, the playful engagement with the Baroque idea of the 'living' or animated skeleton is the same. Nevola notes important precedents of this theme in the works of Baccio Bandinelli (a drawing of "Doctors in Dialogue with Death", 1518, ING, Rome, inv. FC.124258), Marco Dente (engraving of "The Skeletons", 1518), G.B. Tiepolo (an etching of "Death Giving Audience" from the "Capricci" of 1743) and Stefano della Bella (etchings from the "Five Deaths" series of c.1648). Tiepolo and della Bella inspired Piranesi technically and stylistically as well as thematically; as did Salvator Rosa, who enjoyed similarly eccentric and macabre themes.
The skeleton at lower left is shown in a typically melancholic pose, with his head resting on his bent arm, while that at upper right kneels in a pose which approximates that of an ecstatic saint. Another drawing of a skeleton, more closely related to the Grotteschi print, is in the Modena Taccuini (Taccuino 'A', fol. 44v; Biblioteca Estense e Universitaria, Modena, Ms. Campori, inv.1523, Yy 6,33). Nevola dates that drawing to c.1747-48 and suggests the same date for the British Museum sheet. Stylistically, the drawing can also be linked to sheets in Hamburg (inv. 1915.653; Nevola p. 200, fig. 156) and the Morgan Library (inv. 1966.11:9; Nevola, p. 201, fig. 157), both dated by Nevola to 1747-8, which share the very loose, fluid wash of the BM sheet while exploring the broader theme of tumbledown ruins seen in the settings of the "Grotteschi".
Lit.: H. Thomas, 'The Drawings of Giovanni Battista Piranesi', London, 1954, no. 13; E. Croft-Murray, in exhib. cat., BM, 'Giovanni Battista Piranesi', 1968, no. 88; J. Scott, 'Piranesi', New York and London, 1975, p. 15, fig. 10; J. Wilton-Ely, in exhib. cat., London, South Bank, 'Piranesi', 1978, no. 8; A. Bettagno, in exhib. cat., Venice, Fondazione Cini, 'Disegni di Giambattista Piranesi', 1978, no. 10; A. Robison, 'Piranesi: early architectural fantasies, a catalogue raisonné of the etchings', Chicago and London, 1986, p. 56, n. 50; T. Lingesleben, in exhib. cat., Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, Zurich, Kunsthaus and Vienna, Palais Harrach, 'Das Capriccio als Kunstprinzip', 1996-7, no. Z19 (with further literature); F. Nevola, "Giovanni Battista Piranesi: I Grotteschi", Rome: Ugo Bozzi, 2010, pp. 184-5, fig. 137.
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
1965, BM, 'Masterpieces of the Print Room'
1968, BM, 'Piranesi', no.19
1972, BM, 'The Art of Drawing', no.270
1978, London, 'Piranesi', no.8
1978, Venice, Fondazione Cini, 'Piranesi,' no.10
1996/7, Dec-Feb, Cologne, Wallraf-Richartz Mus, 'Capriccio', no. Z-19
1997 Mar-Jun, Zürich, Kunsthaus, 'Capriccio', no.Z-19
1997 Jul-Sep, Vienna, Kunsthist Mus, 'Capriccio', no.Z-19
2020 20 Feb-9 Aug, London, BM, 'Piranesi drawings'.
- Acquisition date
- Prints and Drawings
- Registration number