Friday, December 11, 2009

Giovanni Piranesi


I was asked the other night to recommend a book on etching, and I said I would, and then forgot to do it. The book that I recommend is called The Art of Etching by E.S. Lumsden, there is a link at the bottom of the page for that. This is another of those classic texts written in the 1920's and reprinted inexpensively today by Dover books (of course). This book tells you how to do etchings, set up a studio and all that you would expect, but that is not why I am recommending it. Much of the book is an excellent history of etching through history. The book pays particular attention to a revival of etching that took place in the British Isles at the end of the 19th century. I am going to be showing some of those down the road , they are wonderful and really too little known. These guys with names like Muirhead Bone and Frank Brangwyn were great designers. This blog is going to get obscure again. Real obscure, so pick up an extra filter, OK?


Tonight I want to show the etchings of Rome by Piranesi. From an area near and then controlled by Venice, Piranesi was the son of a master builder and stonemason. He moved to Rome and served an apprecticeship under Guiseppe Vasi he returned to Venice and probably befriended Tiepelo who was also a fine etcher. In 1748 he returnerd to Rome and opened a workshop producing folios of etchings of the eternal city.

He had some training in architecture although he was unable to attract many commissions. He measured the historic and ancient architecture of Rome. He had the ability to imagine what the ruins would have looked like before they were damaged. He developed a lucrative trade in representations of the ruins of Rome. These etchings are so exciting and dynamic, they are full of strong contrasts and highly detailed and textured passages. They are really sort of outrageous and overblown and I found them very easy to like at an early age.

I suppose I will reveal what a geek I am by saying that I discovered these in high school and had a big folio of reproductions of the Prisons series. I dragged it around with me to study. I drew some imitations of them in India ink. Just a few years befor I had been imitating Big Daddy Ed Roth (Look him up, kids!) Piranesi was one of my heroes early on. I studied Constable and the Dutch masters too. Remember there were no books on American painting, not even on Sargent! and there were no books on 19th century academic painting either other than Ingres and David. Up until just a decade or so ago I had most of the common art books that interested me. Today there are so many I can't begin to have them all. Every time I go online or in a big bookstore like at the met, I see something I want. I will never catch up now.

Piranesi did thousands of etchings, most of architecture. Tomorrow I will show you the Carceri or the prisons, of which I showed a few the other night. They look like contemporary Hollywood concept art. They are really very surprising and I think you will enjoy the Prissons etchings a lot if you are not familiar with them. Which would no doubt be the case for most people, I guess.

8 comments:

Abel said...

Uploaded pictures are small Stape! Just pointing that out cuz it seems you intended to put up bigger-than-usual ones.. unless you were being sarcastic :]

Stapleton Kearns said...

Abel:
I messed that up, I will work on it. They were supposed to be REALLY BIG. Dunno what happened, parasites maybe?
.............Stape

Gregory Becker said...

I am so drawn to black and white pictures. Especially ones that have arches and the shadow play that comes from them. All of these are just beautiful. I found a book on landsape art once and I wish I could remember the name of it but each painting was represented in color and in black and white. I would look at it for hours studying tonal and color relationships. To this day I still take pictures of paintings and scan them into my computer and then copy it as a black and white just so I can compare the black and white to the color image. I say to myself If I was to draw this painting what would it look like? The black and white looks like a drawing of the painting. I think that is why I take a painters approach to drawing. One of my goals is to paint like I draw and draw like I paint.
These etchings remind me of that goal.

roderikmayne said...

I just read your "Ask Snape" in the Fine Arts Studio Online newsletter on the "pay to present" problem. I think that it is such an important topic that is so little understood among the emerging artists (of which I am one-even though older) that I think you should put it in your blog if you havn't done so already. Thank you.

Gregory Becker said...

Looking at all of these etchings I keep thinking about the value range. The full value range is found in all of the examples. But the distribution of how much light and how much dark and all the in betweens creates vastly different effects of light.

Stapleton Kearns said...

Gregory:
I too love black and white. The public at large though, wants COLOR. If you are trying to sell your art you will want to keep that in mind.
........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Rodeerick:
I answer your question tomorrow (and you respond)
........Stape

Stapleton Kearns said...

Gregory:
Your right, they are almost all a full value scale.
.Stape