Workshop of Giovanni Battista Piranesi

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Workshop of Giovanni Battista Piranesi
Lunette with Trophies; Winged Serpents, and Dolphins in Spandrels
ca. 1760
Red chalk, over black chalk, on paper; framing line in red chalk.
10 3/8 x 22 1/16 inches (264 x 560 mm)
Bequest of Junius S. Morgan and gift of Henry S. Morgan.

Watermark: Fleur-de-lis inside circle, surmounted by letter "B", with letter "V" below circle, centered on chain line.

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.

Denison, Cara, Myra Nan Rosenfeld, and Stephanie Wiles. Exploring Rome : Piranesi and His Contemporaries. New York : Pierpont Morgan Library; Montréal : Centre Canadien d'Architecture, 1993, no. 28, repr.


This drawing represents one of a pair of heavily restored Roman reliefs that were installed in the Villa Albani around 1760. While the Morgan drawing has often led scholars to suggest that Piranesi had restored the relief, or that he had even invented it, the lunette (and its pair, at the other end of the Gallery of Parnassus) are indeed ancient, and when they were first described and depicted, by the Comte de Caylus in 1759, there was no mention of Piranesi. In fact, only the Morgan drawing connects Piranesi to these lunettes.
The very careful execution of this drawing is, however, at odds with Piranesi's own work, even the other drawings in which his normally bold manner is somewhat tempered by the act of copying. Furthermore, many versions of this composition survive from the late eighteenth century (in counterproofs, copies, and copies of counterproofs, prints, and copies after prints) and most of them reflect this drawing rather than the relief itself. This is an odd situation, for there is no other drawing by Piranesi that would be so often copied.
The Piranesi-workshop material in the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Karlsruhe includes a number of drawings in a very similar style: tightly hatched chalk, generally showing ancient reliefs as complete and flawless rather than as picturesque ruins, and often with repeating elements only partly indicated (as with the carved molding around the Morgan lunette), Focusing on this material, Christoph Frank and Georg Kabierske have made the convincing argument that such drawings are the work not of Piranesi, but of the French sculptor and ornamental specialist Nicolas François-Daniel Lhuillier, who was associated with Piranesi in the 1760s.

Associated names: 

Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, 1720-1778, Workshop of.
Morgan, Jane Norton, 1868-1925, former owner.
Morgan, Junius Spencer, 1892-1960, former owner.
Morgan, Henry S. (Henry Sturgis), 1900-1982, former owner.