Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997)
Piranesi, Giovanni Battista

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(1720-1778) Italian architect and artist, from 1740 in Rome, where he became best-known for two series of etchings. The Vedute (graph 1745) comprises 135 etchings of Rome (> City; Edifice; Urban Fantasy), depicting the great city in a fashion that inextricably mingles the ancient and the contemporary, the ruined and the populous, the vertical and the subterranean, all effects conveyed through a profoundly Romantic use of chiaroscuro. One of the frontispieces attached to a second sequence – "Two Roman Roads Flanked by Colossal Funerary Monuments" in Le Antichità Romane (graph 1756) – almost literally transforms the dream of the city into a dream of edifice. Indeed, Horace Walpole described GBP's visions of Rome as "sublime dreams", and it is clear that their depictions of ruined (but animate) cities and edifices deeply affected the Gothic writers (> Gothic Fantasy) at the end of the 18th century. GBP's second great series, Invenzioni Capric di Carceri (graph 1745-1750; rev vt Carceri d'Invenzione 1761), a sequence of images of vast, imaginary prisons, only intensified his role as an architect of dreams. The close resemblance of GBP's work to the Architectura (graph 1593-1594; rev 1598) of Wendel Dietterlin (1550-1599) may be coincidental; the affinity between the two artists is unmistakable.

A typical late demonstration of GBP's continuing relevance is the dustwrapper by Jon Blake to the UK edition of Stephen Laws's Daemonic (1995), which is based on GBP, and which depicts a Labyrinth without exit. GBP's influence on fantasy (in distinction to Horror) is indirect; but some of fantasy's darker edifices, like Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, are Pirenesian; and illustrators like Mike Wilks – in Pile: Petals from St Klaed's Computer (1979 chap) with Brian W Aldiss – clearly hearken back to GBP, the first artist to envision the modern city as an edifice. [JC]

Giovanni Battista Piranesi


This entry is taken from the Encyclopedia of Fantasy (1997) edited by John Clute and John Grant. It is provided as a reference and resource for users of the SF Encyclopedia, but apart from possible small corrections has not been updated.