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The Pier with a Lamp (Round Arches Springing from a Square Column, Ornamented with the Heads of Giants with Rings in Their Mouths)

Although most of Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s early etchings depict ruined sites from antiquity, some imagine the reconstruction of these buildings or invent fantastic new architecture in the classical spirit. The latter were intended to inspire timid patrons and architects of Piranesi’s period to produce more ambitious projects. Around 1749, he took this sense of invention even further by producing a series of fourteen (two were added later) architectural caprices in the form of imaginary prisons. Rather than advocating better architectural practices, these designs challenged spatial reality. His “flights of fancy” feature a subterranean maze of Romanesque vaults, bridges, and stairways. Piranesi enhanced the sense of mystery and danger through the inclusion of bound prisoners, extinguished lamps, torture devices, and billowing clouds of smoke.

Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art’s collection also includes Plate 6 (The Smoking Fire) (Eskenazi Museum of Art 72.87.3) and Plate 4 (The Grand Piazza) (Eskenazi Museum of Art 75.17.1) from this series.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi
Italian, 1720–1778
The Pier with a Lamp (Round Arches Springing from a Square Column, Ornamented with the Heads of Giants with Rings in Their Mouths), Plate 15 from Imaginary Prisons (Carceri)
ca. 1745
Etching and engraving on paper
Image: 16 1/8 x 21 7/16 in. (40.9 x 54.5 cm); sheet: 20 9/16 x 29 1/4 in. (52.2 x 74.3 cm)
Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, 75.17.2