Sublime Ideas: Drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi

March 10 through June 4, 2023

In a letter written near the end of his life, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) explained to his sister that he had lived away from his native Venice because he could find no patrons there willing to support “the sublimity of my ideas.” He resided instead in Rome, where he became internationally famous working as a printmaker, designer, architect, archaeologist, theorist, dealer, and polemicist. While Piranesi’s lasting fame is based above all on his etchings, he was also an intense, accomplished, and versatile draftsman, and much of his work was first developed in vigorous drawings.

The Morgan holds the largest and most important collection of Piranesi’s drawings, well over 100 works that encompass his early architectural capricci, studies for prints, measured design drawings, sketches for a range of decorative objects, a variety of figural drawings, and views of Rome and Pompeii. These form the core of the exhibition, which will also include seldom-exhibited loans from a number of private collections. Accompanied by a publication offering a complete survey of Piranesi’s work as a draftsman, the exhibition will be the most comprehensive look at Piranesi’s drawings in more than a generation.

Sublime Ideas: Drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi is made possible by The Gilbert & Ildiko Butler Family Foundation; the Lucy Ricciardi Family Exhibition Fund; the Wolfgang Ratjen Stiftung, Liechtenstein; and Joshua W. Sommer; with support from the Berger Collection Education Trust; Alyce Williams Toonk; Robert Dance; the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation; and Russell and Marian Burke.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Fantasy of a Magnificent Forum, ca. 1765. Pen and brown ink and wash, 329 x 491 mm. Morgan Library & Museum, New York, inv. 1974.27.