Inscribed in red ink 146
Signed and dated
- Undated, possibly mid-1740s or c.1750.
Medium and dimensions
Red, black chalk, ink, brown wash 385 x 530
Giovanni Battista Piranesi
This drawing by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1728-1778) is the companion to that in Adam vol.26/163, and together they have been generally identified as the two drawings that Robert Adam had in mind when he wrote in a letter on 4 July 1755: 'whatsoever I want of him he will do for me with pleasure, and is just now doing two drawings for me which will be both singular and clever' (see Fleming Robert Adam and His Circle in Edinburgh & Rome (London, 1962), p.167). However, neither of these two Piranesi sketches would seem to match the special commission of being 'singular and clever', and that in Adam vol.26/163 is unfinished and was originally folded. Adam owned other Piranesi drawings and, in the sale of 1818 (Catalogue of A Valuable Collection of Antique Sculpture etc. R. Adam, Christie's, London, 21 & 22 May 1818), lot 28 of the second day, purchased by John Soane, contained works by both Piranesi and Charles-Louis Clérisseau (see Bolton The Architecture of Robert and James Adam, 2 vols. (London, 1922), II, p.331). These two drawings may have come from this sale. The drawing here carries no numbering contemporaneous with Adam's time, only the red ink number of a later date; the other drawing is contained within volume 26, which is closely associated with James rather than Robert Adam, and which was bought by Charles Heathcote Tatham at the sale of 1821 (Christie's London Catalogue of the Effects of Robert Adam Esq. Dec. 9 July 1821 & following days). This drawing was probably placed in volume 56 on account of its funerary subject-matter, which complements that of the Adam-Clérisseau set whose sequence it concludes. The composition, building upwards from left to right by means of staircases, and the flamboyant use of wash, are typical of Piranesi's drawings of the Carceri of the mid-1740s, and the drawing may belong to this period (see Wilton-Ely Piranesi, Paestum & Soane (London, 2001), p.1, n.8). On the other hand, the watermark would suggest a date of c.1750.There is an attractive and large copy of this composition on tracing paper by C J Richardson (1806-1871) in the Victoria & Albert Museum, London (P&D 93.G.8/59).
Rep. Tait Robert Adam, The Creative Mind: from the sketch to the finished drawing, catalogue of an exhibition at Sir John Soane's Museum, London (London, 1996), p.21
Digitisation of the Drawings Collection has been made possible through the generosity of the Leon Levy Foundation