Beckman Fellow 2009-10

Heather Hyde Minor


Minor imagePiranesi's Imperfect Ruins

The engraved and etched images of Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) have captivated a wide range of viewers ever since he began printing them in the 1740s. He is one of Europe’s most famous eighteenth-century artists, widely granted the status of “genius,” and his images remain the subject of museum exhibitions throughout the world.

Yet Piranesi’s creative energies pulsed in many directions, and there are complexities in his work that have not yet been explored. In addition to his print-making, Piranesi was an architect, antiquities restorer and dealer, draftsman, archaeologist, furniture and fireplace designer, author, and bookseller. With his publication of Antichità Romane (1756), Piranesi moved beyond a purely visual representation by adding elements of text, creating a new narrative form that intermingles textual and visual meanings.

This combining of text and image emerged in subsequent work as Piranesi’s preferred means of artistic production. His Della magnificenza (1761) comprises 199 pages of text and 44 plates. His Diverse maniere d’adornare i cammini (1769) opens with “an apologetical essay in defense” of Egyptian and Tuscan architecture and is studded with images that reduce Etruscan vases to their essential curved elements. Before his death, Piranesi produced a total of seventeen such volumes, and these are the focus of Professor Minor’s current research.

During her Center appointment, Professor Minor will write half a book manuscript that explores these questions: How do text and image function in Piranesi’s work? In what sense do Piranesi’s images “need” their texts and vice versa? Her research will restore an essential component, now largely forgotten or ignored, to our understanding of Piranesi as an artistic humanist, both author and engraver, master of both texts and images.