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Column of Marcus Aurelius

Piranesi etched a total of 137 views of Rome and for this series issued them in several editions. Such was the fame of these depictions that tourists often found the actual ruins and buildings disappointing by comparison. The images focus on historic monuments and their immediate environment. Here the life of the city pulses around Aurelius’s column, and ornate carriages are contrasted with the poor who huddle at the base of the pedestal. At the right, a stage seems to have been set up for a theatrical performance.

Piranesi specialized in the etched medium, and he was one of the finest printmakers of the eighteenth century. His concentration on this medium was unique. His contemporaries were either painter/printmakers or reproductive printmakers, and no other artist focused exclusively on etching. His mastery of this medium enabled Piranesi to explore evocative interpretations of his subjects, and his antiquarian and imaginary scenes remain both important records and highly personal visions.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi
Italian, 1720–1778
Column of Marcus Aurelius from Views of Rome (Vedute di Roma)
1758
Etching on paper
Image: 34 ½ x 27 ½ in. (87.6 x 69.8 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 71.39.2