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Work Palace interior: two flying Fames crowning a figure

Department of Prints and Drawings: 18th century

Intérieur de palais : deux Renommées volantes couronnent un personnage

Musée du Louvre, dist. RMN-Grand Palais - Photo M. Beck-Coppola

Prints and Drawings
18th century

Author(s):
Boyer Sarah

A major work of Piranesi's early years, this unusually large drawing of a puzzling subject was doubtless intended for an engraving; its style suggests that had it ever been executed it would have had a place in his Opere Varie, published in 1750. It offers stunning testimony to Piranesi's artistic powers, visionary imagination, and mastery of technique, exploiting every possible nuance and effect of brown wash over red chalk.

A vision

In the center, two Fames crown with the laurels of immortality the pivotal figure of the scene, who leans on a pedestal, surrounded by billowing drapery and illuminated by a ray of light reflected onto him by Minerva, seated on a rainbow. Monument-like structures on either side support two captives, one holding a celestial globe, the other a sphere. A large crowd, flanked by trumpeters on either side, celebrates the hero beneath a vast flattened vault that offers a view onto colossal architectural constructions in the background. The subject is a puzzle: a festival in honor of a military hero, a masonic ceremony, or a merely invented occasion whose theatricality gives it the air of an operatic finale?

The apotheosis of Newton?

Recently discovered on the back of the plates of The Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore and The Piazza di Monte Cavallo at the Istituto per la Grafica in Rome (the only example of such reuse) is the largest and most gripping of Piranesi's architectural fantasies, never published and full of obscure references. It is closely related to this monumental drawing, itself hardly less striking than the plates. Viewed through a kind of proscenium arch, the ceremony brings together a horde of figures, some gesticulating around the central figure, others ascending the two flights of steps and the spiral staircase that give access to a platform with two monument-like structures, each supporting a captive with a telescope behind. In the middle, a double spiral staircase leads to a cylindrical structure drawn by horses, precariously balanced on the point of a cone, at the very center of the image and isolated by clouds of smoke. The meaning of the motifs becomes clear only with the identification of the central figure: certain elements recall the study of astronomy; the rainbow and the reflected ray of light, work on the optical spectrum; and the cone, the theory of universal gravitation - the whole representing the Apotheosis of Sir Isaac Newton. Despite the inaccessibility of his writings to non-mathematicians, Newton was a figure of great public interest and the subject of many literary works, his reputation secured by the popularizing efforts of such writers as Algarotti and Voltaire. The unique Allegorical Monument to Sir Isaac Newton painted by Pittoni with the assistance of the Valeriani brothers and engraved by Desplaces in 1736, seems to have influenced Piranesi's own tribute.

Piranesi's figures

Among Piranesi's other drawings are human studies, imaginary figures that show the influence of Ricci and Guardi in the use of pen and ink, the strong shadows accentuated by touches of wash, and the vigorous hatching, recalling engraving, or that of Della Vecchia in some of the figures that appear to be dancing. Dating from between 1762 and 1764, often executed on the back of cut-up proofs, such figures later appear in the engravings to give scale to the architecture and draw the viewer's attention to certain details, striking a human and sometimes tragic note. At first dressed in contemporary costume, they gradually turn into ragged beggars in the Neapolitan manner.

Bibliography

Bacou R., in Venise au dix-huitième siècle : Peintures, dessins et gravures des collections françaises, cat. exp. Paris, Orangerie des Tuileries, 21 Septembre-29 Novembre 1971, ed. des musées nationaux, 1971, n 143.
Bacou R., Anciens et nouveaux : Choix d'oeuvres acquises par l'Etat ou avec sa participation de 1981 à 1985, cat. exp. Paris, Galeries nationales du Grand-Palais, 5 novembre 1985-3 février 1986, ed. de la Réunion des musées nationaux, 1985, n 79.
Bowron E. P., Rishel J. J. (ed.), Art in Rom in the eighteenth century, Philadelphie, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 16 mars-28 mai 2000 ; Houston, The Museum of Fine Arts, 25 juin-7 septembre 2000, ed. Philadelphie, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2000, n 388 (dessin du Getty).
Brunel G., Piranèse et les Français : colloque Rome, Villa Médicis ,12-14 mai 1976, Rome, Edizioni dell' Elefante, 1978, 2 vol.
Méjanès J.-F., in Piranèse et les Français, 1740-1790, cat. exp., Rome, Académie de France à Rome, 01 mai-30 novembre 1976 ; Dijon, Musée des Beaux-Arts, 01 mai-30 novembre 1976 ; Paris, Caisse nationale des Monuments historiques et des sites, 1er mai-30 novembre 1976, Rome, Edizioni dell'elefante, 1976, n 144.
Sørensen B., "The Apotheosis of Sir Isaac Newton", in Apollo, mars 2001, vol.CLIII, n 469, p.26-34.
Wilton-Ely J., Piranesi, cat. exp., Londres, Hayward Gallery, the Art Council of Great Britain, 27 avril-11 juin 1978, , Arts Council of Great Britain, 1978, n 23.

Technical description

  • Giovanni Battista Piranesi

    Palace interior: two flying Fames crowning a figure

    Before 1750

  • Pen and brown ink and ink wash over sketch in red chalk

    H. 51.2 cm; W. 76.5 cm

  • Théophile Leclerc, architect; presented to the D.P.L.G. architectural partnership c. 1935; purchased 1983

    4039010

  • Prints and Drawings

    Due to their fragility, works on paper are not on permanent display in the museum.

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Additional information about the work

Bottom right, in pen and black ink: Piranesi