Sublime Ideas: Drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi

May 29 through September 13, 2020

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 what is arguably the largest and most important collection of these works, including early architectural caprices, 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 works form the core of the exhibition.

Supplemented with seldom-exhibited loans from a number of private collections, Sublime Ideas will offer a broad survey of Piranesi’s work as a draftsman, celebrating the 300th anniversary of the artist’s birth.

Sublime Ideas: Drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi is made possible by the Gil and Ildiko Butler Foundation and Joshua W. Sommer.

Piranesi, Giovanni Battista, 1720–1778, Architectural Fantasy, 18th century. The Morgan Library & Museum, New York. Gift of Mr. Janos Scholz, 1974.27.