The Steps to Piranesi

The Piazza di Spagna, the location of the Spanish Steps, led directly to Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s printmaking and antiquities studio in the Strada Felice. Traversing the Steps were the predominately English Grand Tourists who sought to purchase his monumental and evocative etchings as mementoes of their experiences of the eighteenth century continental education. The Steps were also where these tourists would meet their cicerone or Italian guide who would explain the array of incredible Roman ruins, baroque buildings, antiquities and works of art to be explored in the ancient city. These are some of figures that people Piranesi’s streets and monuments. The Arch of Titus, located just outside the Colosseum, was one of the chief destinations of the Tour. Tourists would also rely on guidebooks, which offered not only personal narratives and maps of the best trodden tracks, but also instructions on where to purchase the necessary printed souvenirs.


View of the arch of Titus (Veduta dell'Arco di Tito)
View of the Arch of Titus (Veduta dell’Arco di Tito)


Piranesi was creating his Vedute di Roma (The Views of Rome) throughout his lifetime and they were purchased as single sheets, and sometimes bound together by their collectors.  The series comprises two folios of the Baillieu’s first Paris edition of Piranesi’s works which was issued by his sons Francesco and Pietro in 1800-07. This set journeyed to Melbourne by way of its first Roman Catholic archbishop, James Alipius Goold. When he accepted an invitation to leave Rome for Australia, ‘it was on the steps of Santa Maria del Popolo, across from the two mirror churches that Piranesi depicted in his view of the Piazza del Popolo.’[1]


View of the Piazza di Spagna (Veduta di Piazza di Spagna)
View of the Piazza di Spagna (Veduta di Piazza di Spagna)


Upcoming Piranesi events in Melbourne:

  • Rome: Piranesi’s Vision‘ an exhibition showing in the Keith Murdoch Gallery at the State Library 22 Feb to June 22 2014
  • The Piranesi Effect‘ an exhibition showing at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, University of Melbourne 20 Feb to 25 May 2014

Kerrianne Stone (Special Collections Curatorial Assistant (Prints))

[1]  Colin Holden, Piranesi’s Grandest Tour from Europe to Australia (Sydney: NewSouth Publishing, 2014), 161

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