Giovanni Battista Piranesi

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Giovanni Battista Piranesi
Fantastic Shell Ornament
ca. 1747
Pen and brown ink and wash, over black chalk, on laid paper.
9 11/16 x 7 1/4 inches (246 x 184 mm)
Bequest of Junius S. Morgan and gift of Henry S. Morgan.

Watermark: Deer inside 12-petaled flower.

Mrs. J.P. Morgan, New York; by descent to her sons Junius S. Morgan, Princeton and Paris (no mark, see Lugt 1536) and Henry S. Morgan, New York.

Stampfle, Felice. Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Drawings in the Pierpont Morgan Library. New York : Dover, 1978, no. 14, repr.


This is one of a number of drawings at the Morgan that were executed on Venetian paper and in the style that Piranesi adopted when he visited his hometown in 1745-47. The purpose of this drawing is not clear. While it seems to be a scheme for some sort of lidded vessel -- an urn or perhaps even a coffeepot -- Piranesi had not yet started to produce decorative objects when he drew the sheet; it may be an exercise inspired by the fantastic vase drawings by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo, with whom Piranesi was associated during his time in Venice. In any case, in its mix of natural form and fantastic abstraction, the Fantastic Shell Ornament demonstrates an approach to design that Piranesi would employ throughout his career.

Associated names: 

Morgan, Jane Norton, 1868-1925, former owner.
Morgan, Junius Spencer, 1892-1960, former owner.
Morgan, Henry S. (Henry Sturgis), 1900-1982, former owner.