John Marciari: At the center of this drawing, we see a design for a richly decorated pulpit, meant to be built around a column of a church. Such pulpits were occasionally added to older Venetian churches in the eighteenth century, but no built examples rival the complexity of that which Piranesi presents here, with prophets holding tablets at the corners, a roundel depicting the Baptism of Christ at the front, and a range of rocaille ornament. Yet, Piranesi offers not merely an elevation view of the pulpit, but also—at left—a plan for the structure, even showing the steps necessary to mount it. It seems plausible that this could have been a presentation drawing, made for a prospective patron, although there is no evidence that Piranesi was ever granted such a commission.
Whatever the original purpose of the drawing, we must admire its artifice. The pulpit elevation is shown as though it is on a just-unrolled piece of parchment, with a string of medallions used to hold the sheet open, while the plan appears on a tablet placed underneath. And as is so often the case with Piranesi’s drawings, this sheet outlived its original function. Piranesi would take it back to Rome, and it would become part of the thinking behind an etching in the Grotteschi series he published a few years later.