Christopher Johns, Norma L. and Roselea J. Goldberg Professor of History of Art, has been invited to lecture on March 30 at the symposium Piranesi, Rome, and the Arts of Design held in conjunction with the eponymous exhibition at the San Diego Museum of Art. His lecture, Piranesi and the Fabrication of Rome in the European Imagination: Le Vedute di Roma and Antichità Romane, will explore the connection between word and image and between image and reality in Piranesi’s influential series with the intention of shedding some light on the disconnection between the scholar’s and the tourist’s Rome in the middle decades of the eighteenth century.
The vast majority of Europeans who studied, collected and admired the graphic works of Giambattista Piranesi never saw Rome. This fabricated Rome inspired the European imagination in a way that is difficult to understand in the modern age of imagery overload and instantaneous access to almost everything. But Piranesi’s Rome was a reality in its own right, and only those relative few who actually visited the Eternal City during their Grand Tours could compare the artist’s vision with diurnal reality. Indeed, not a few Roman visitors, conditioned by their study of Piranesi’s imagery, were disappointed in the modest scale and shabby surroundings of some of the greatest monuments to survive from an admired antiquity. The Views of Rome and Roman Antiquities, two of the artist’s most influential series of etchings, had an exceptionally high profile in Enlightenment Europe and form the basis for his vision of Roman magnificence.
*Giambattista Piranesi, View of the Subterranean Foundations of the Mausoleum Built by the Emperor Hadrian, from Le Antichità Romane, etching, ca. 1756.