Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 17201778)
Etching, plate 53 of Antichità Romane, vol. 3, first edition
Rogers Fund, transferred from the Library, 1941 (126.96.36.199.53)
While Piranesi was at work on the Antichità Romane, the result of years of research into the highly developed engineering skills of the Romans, the first threats to Roman preeminence were heard. In the early 1750s, certain French and British scholars and architects had begun to assert that the Romans were mere imitators of the Greeks, under whom all the arts had attained perfection. A desire to defend the Romans from this charge may lie behind the exaggeration that appears in some of the plates of this publicationhere Piranesi makes the mausoleum appear much larger than it actually is and exaggerates the difficulty of its construction. This page provides a good example of Piranesi's novel illustrative techniques: he represents three supplemental views on scrolls of paper hung behind the primary scene, while playfully undermining the illusion he has created by making the hook on the left scroll overlap the edge of the sheet.