Jewels in Her Crown: Treasures of Columbia University Libraries Special Collections

Exhibition Themes > Art & Architecture > 62. Giovanni Battista Piranesi

62.  Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778).  Elevazione ortografica della Tribuna, e del Presbiterio della Basilica Lateranense. From Varj Disegni fatti d'ordine della Santità di Nostro Signore PAPA CLEMENTE XIII nell'anno 1764 . . . pe'l compimento della nuova Basilica Lateranense: presentati nell'anno 1767 . . . . Pen and brown ink, with gray and brown washes on paper, (89.7 x 57.2 cm.), n.d. Avery Library, Classics Collection

This artfully embellished section is one of twenty-three drawings at Avery that present Piranesi's ideas for the redesign of San Giovanni in Laterano at Rome. Widely acclaimed for their beauty and historical importance, they are justly regarded as the crowning glory of Avery Library's considerable Piranesi holdings.

Avery began collecting the work of the great Venetian-born printmaker Piranesi soon after its founding, acquiring an almost complete set of the Rome printing of his Opere in 1892. Through the years, other notable materials were added: a first state of the Antichità Romane (1756); a rare copy of the Lettere di Giustificazione (1767); the Prima parte di architetture (1743), Piranesi's first printed work; and a manuscript account book recording construction costs for Piranesi's redesign of the church of Santa Maria del Priorato in Rome (1764-1767).

In 1970, through the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. Arthur M. Sackler, Avery acquired a collection of most of Piranesi's major works in their early states up to 1764. And in 1971, once again through the Sacklers' beneficence, Avery acquired twenty-three of the twenty-five known large drawings for the redesign of the Lateran Basilica, given in memory of Rudolf Wittkower, chairman of Columbia's Art History and Archaeology Department from 1956 to 1969.

Jointly executed by Piranesi and his assistants, these drawings propose various architectural solutions for rites in the church space, sympathetic with the prior remodeling by Francesco Borromini (1599-1667). They were commissioned by Pope Clement XIII and presented to his nephew Cardinal G. B. Rezzonico; however, none of the six schemes was ever realized. They remain a magnificent record of Piranesi's second and final attempt to work as an architect.

Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Arthur M. Sackler in Memory of Rudolf Wittkower, 1971

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