John Marciari: This double-sided drawing tells us much about the use and reuse of drawings in Piranesi’s workshop. The sheet was clearly preserved because of the large figure drawing on one side. It is one of many studies of figures whom Piranesi encountered during his daily life; these were not made in preparation for prints but were instead simply the output of Piranesi’s constant sketching. In this case, the man in a cap and apron, working at a table, can be identified as one of the printers who in Piranesi’s later years worked to satisfy the enormous demand for his etchings.
The back of the drawing tells a different but equally interesting tale. It is a fragment of Piranesi’s preparatory drawing for the View of the Arch of Septimius Severus, a plate added around 1770 or 1772 to the Vedute di Roma, his series of Roman views. We have already seen how Piranesi preserved and later reused so many of his drawings, but the studies for his views were apparently a different matter: once he made the corresponding etchings, he generally reused the backs of the view drawings for other purposes. Most of Piranesi’s preparatory studies of this type thus survive only as fragments like this one. There are others that can be seen later in the exhibition.