Online Piranesi exhibition at the Leiden University Library

Piranesi - TempiodiBacco

As of today an online exhibition entitled ‘Piranesi : Revolutionary printmaker, illustrious architectural historian’ can be visited on the Special Collections website of the Leiden University Library. Since all our team members participated in some way in the 2009 course on Piranesi’s Vedute di Roma that ultimately led to this exhibition, we thought it appropriate to promote it a bit. The course was organized by Caroline van Eck, head of the department of architectural history, and Sigrid de Jong, postdoc in our project, for the students of the Master programme History and theory of architecture, taught at the Art History department of Leiden University. Maarten Delbeke delivered lectures as part of the course, and Linda Bleijenberg participated in it as a student. A summary of her essay on Piranesi’s Veduta di Tempio di Bacco and its link with the work of Luca Signorelli is part of the online catalogue (no. 5), and is copied below:

Piranesi’s charming view of this dilapidated temple-turned-church, executed around 1758, sports all the characteristic ingredients of the artist’s Roman vedute: exaggerated dimensions, sharp contrasts, dramatized signs of decay, and a variety of small figures going about their particular business. Most of these figures are recurring motifs in Piranesi’s views, like the group of well-dressed men in the foreground, the dark scarecrow-like man behind the tree-stump on the right, and the figure searching the debris on the left of the building. Unique for this plate are the crouching man in the foreground, the man in rags standing by the door, and the figure whose head and shoulders are sticking out of the ground.

These three appear to be a conscious reference to a fresco by Luca Signorelli at Orvieto cathedral, The Resurrection of the Flesh (1499–1502): they mirror the poses of some figures in Signorelli’s work. The reference is particularly well chosen with regard to the location of the temple, on the Via Appia; an area filled with early Christian catacombs and pagan sepulchral monuments from the same period. The result is a highly evocative play on the theme of decay and resurrection, presenting a coherent and dynamic narrative to the informed viewer.


Luca Signorelli, The resurrection of the flesh (c. 1502). Fresco, chapel of San Brizio, Orvieto cathedral


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