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Piranesi’s greatest works on show in April

Piranesi's greatest works on show in April

Piranesi’s greatest works on show in April

Piranesi’s Paestum drawings enlighten a new generation at Sir John Soane’s Museum

20, 26 and 27 April 2013

The last great graphic project from Piranesi, The Paestum drawings, are currently on display at the Sir John Soane’s Museum and are set to inspire a whole new generation of artists in April when they learn the etching and drawing techniques employed by this most influential of architects and artists.

To celebrate his genius, the 17 Differentes Vues de Pesto, the highly finished drawings from Piranesi have been brought together to celebrate the influence they have on architects and artists from 1778 through to the present day.

The drawings contain a level of detail very close to the finished prints, and it is thought that perhaps, aware of his failing health, Piranesi included as much detail as possible for his son Francesco to finish the work he had begun. He uses the full repertoire of his draughtsmanship to create images that both accurately describe the architecture of the Paestum temples and bring out their evocative, rustic setting.

Multi-layering of pencil, brown and grey washes and pen and ink, sometimes with the addition of red chalk or white chalk highlights, creates a layered effect which can be compared to the repeated bitings in the resulting etchings.

The rough paper used by Piranesi is analogous with the travertine used to construct the temples he was depicting – echoing its pitted and eroded texture.

He also uses the scena per angolo – a feature of Ferdinando Bibiena’s theatrical scenery designs – to give a unique perspective to the drawings; replacing the traditional, central vanishing point with diagonal axes to heighten the three-dimensionality of the temples and add to their dramatic impact.

Fans of Piranesi’s detailed techniques and those intrigued by the intricacies of etching can explore them for themselves, in a two-part design, engraving and etching course and a day spent drawing Piranesi-like architecture in the extraordinary courtyard at Somerset House.

To experience Piranesi’s ingenious approach, and the depth of his influence on artists from Escher to the makers of the Harry Potter film sets, participants can book their workshop space with Beth Walker at



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