View of the Sepolcri


Giovanni Battista Piranesi
Tombs outside the Herculaneum Gate, Pompeii, ca. 1776–77
Pen and brown ink
The George Ortiz Collection


John Marciari: It is a remarkable coincidence that the Morgan’s three late drawings of sites in Southern Italy—the drawing of Pozzuoli, and two studies of the Temple of Isis at Pompeii—all came to light together at an English country auction in 1950, were divided and subsequently passed through multiple owners, and yet came back together when acquired by the Library, one by purchase and the others as gifts from different donors. There were, however, five Piranesi drawings in total at that English auction: the three now at the Morgan and two that remain in the Ortiz collection. The group of five is here reunited for the first time in many decades.

The Ortiz drawing showing the tombs of the Via dei Sepolcri, just outside the Herculaneum Gate of Pompeii, is the most complex and remarkable drawing of the entire set, for it is a collage of several different sheets, stitched together as Piranesi reworked and expanded the design. Look closely at the structure of the drawing. It began on a small scale, as the sheet to the right of center, but Piranesi first added the revision of the sheet further to the right, before then attaching both to the large, final backing sheet and unifying the composition with his thick lines of dark ink. It is one of several studies of Pompeii that have similar revisions, which suggests that Piranesi only settled on his grand format after making a few initial drawings of the site.