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PIRANESI, Giovanni Battista (1720--1778)
[Carceri.]
Invenzioni capric di carceri all acqva forte datte in lvce da Giovani Bouchard in Roma mercante al Corso
Roma: Giovanni Bouchard, [1753 or 4].
Double-page etch. title-pl., [13] double-page etch. pl. ; 52.0 cm. (1°)

According to the sequence established by Andrew Robison this is the second issue of the first edition. It has the second state of the title-plate in which the spelling of Bouchard's name is corrected from 'Buzard' (see Robison, Piranesi, cat. no. 29 ii/ix). This earlier misspelling was probably a deliberate obfuscation of the kind that Piranesi was fond of introducing into imaginary antique inscriptions. Its correction was no doubt carried out at Bouchard's request. Until the appearance of the Trofei (q.v.) in 1753, the Carceri was the only new work by Piranesi in the Opere varie, 1750 (q.v.) and Magnificenze di Roma, 1751 (q.v.) - the twin vehicles contrived by Bouchard to market various combinations of Piranesi's publications to date - and one can understand therefore why he would have wished that his name be more recognisable on its title-page.

What is more surprising is the absence of Piranesi's name, both on the first edition Carceri title-plate and (in their first states at least) all but four of the following thirteen plates. The simplest explanation for this is that Piranesi's authorship did not need to be stated, since - as Robison's comprehensive survey of copies of the first issue has revealed - the Carceri was conceived, in publishing terms at least, as a component part of the Bouchard Opere varie and Magnificenze di Roma 'combination' volumes. However, the unusual prominence given to Bouchard's name in the titles to these volumes (as well as in that of the Carceri series itself) remains quite striking. The missing piece of the jigsaw here is the nature of the publishing deal struck with Bouchard around 1749--50. The story recounted in J.G. Legrand's 'Notice historique sur la vie et les ouvrages de J.-B. Piranesi' that the artist handed over the publishing and distribution of his work simply to avoid the growing stream of callers at his door, rather too neatly obscures the fact that, as the sole editor, compiler and publisher of Piranesi's work from 1750 until at least 1758, Bouchard was in a powerful position to influence its final published form. It is important also to take into account here that the phrases 'datte in luce da' and 'raccolte da' carry the clear implication that Bouchard was financing what was in effect a concerted re-launch of Piranesi's publications to date. This gave him a particularly strong voice at precisely the moment when Piranesi was completing the Carceri, and raises the intriguing possibility that it may have been Bouchard rather than Piranesi who decided to entitle the series 'Invenzioni Capric[ci] Di Carceri ...'. One wonders whether the absence of his own name and misspelling of Bouchard's might have been Piranesi's way of covertly indicating where the responsibility for this decison lay.

As Robison has pointed out, apart from the title-plate the only plate in the first edition of the Carceri that can be said to be unambiguously a prison scene is 'Prisoners on a Projecting Platform' (pl. X in the second edition) - the other twelve plates depict spaces that are in literal terms quite uncharacteristic of prisons, with high vaulted ceilings, vistas extending into the open air and the presence of ornament and sculpture more suited to a palace than a dungeon. This combined with the possibility that 'The Drawbridge' (pl. VII in the second edition) was originally intended to be the title-plate of the series (it includes the remains of an inscription that is illegible apart from the letters 'DI / PIRA[N]ES') suggests a change of plan involving the addition of two further plates that were incontrovertibly depictions of 'carceri'. This might also explain why there are fourteen plates in the series - a total of ten, twelve or sixteen would have been more usual.

For a detailed description of states and issues, an account of all known preliminary and related drawings, and an analysis of the etching and printing techniques employed in the Carceri, see Andrew Robison, Piranesi early architectural fantasies: a catalogue raisonné of the etchings (1986), pp. 37--44, 139--203.

Copy Notes Bound as the penultimate component in the second volume of a two-volume set of Piranesi's works issued by Giovanni Bouchard under the collective title of Le magnificenze di Roma (q.v.). With manuscript pagination 147--201 top right in ink (versos are un-numbered but included in the count).

Binding C18th calf, triple gilt-ruled borders, gilt-tooled spines, black morocco spine-labels, gilt-lettered 'Opera De Piranesi / II'.

Reference Number 6463


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