Chimneypiece with Masks


Giovanni Battista Piranesi
Design for a chimneypiece with masks on the lintel, a bird, and a rabbit, ca. 1764–67
Pen and brown ink, over red chalk
The Morgan Library & Museum, Bequest of Junius S. Morgan and Gift of Henry S. Morgan; 1966.11:66


John Marciari: The Morgan’s collection is particularly rich in Piranesi’s designs for chimneypieces. These include many that would appear in the plates of his Diverse Maniere, and others that—although unused for prints—show even more clearly Piranesi’s wild imagination at work. The Chimneypiece with Masks, a Bird, and a Rabbit is particularly evocative. It began as a quick sketch in blunt red chalk, which was then revised and refined with messy penwork. Some of the motifs, such as the masks and the panpipe on the right jamb of the chimneypiece, are those which Piranesi associated with Etruscan style. They are a reminder that the Diverse Maniere was, at least in part, a polemical treatise concerning the use of Etruscan, Egyptian, and Roman style in modern design. Yet, the bird at left, the strange, indistinguishable creature at upper right, and the small animal at lower right labeled “Coniglio”—a rabbit—can hardly relate to such polemics and represent instead Piranesi’s more fanciful, inventive side.