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Taras Voznyak

Giovanni Battista Piranesi-memories of the future

 «E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle»

Dante Alighieri, 1265-1321


   Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) is one of the key figures of the XVIII century, the age of Enlightenment.However, he is known as one of the greatest engravers, particularly in the veduta genre - urban landscape.The contribution of Piranesi to the culture of the eighteenth century, the century of the brilliant agony Ancien Régime, and the development of enlightenment thought was much more complex and multifaceted than the role of a brilliant and financially successful ethicist.He managed to prove himself not only as an engraver but also as an architect, theorist, restorer, collector, archaeologist, but also a thinker who not only comprehended but also shaped the spirit of the era. Piranesi is a Son of the Enlightenment,

he combined  encyclopedic knowledge, intellectual freedom and creative imagination. He has always been in a state of creative and intellectual pursuit.

   And it is not surprised. The epoch itself was a constant pursuit.Old forms of social structure, intellectual trends, and economic relations began to sharply dissociate themselves with the new realities of the European-centered world. But not everyone felt it.Therefore, the XVIII century something resembles a ballet in the time of the plague. It is no doubt true, that the symbol of this brilliant agony was Jeanne Antoinette Poisson, Marquise de Pompadour, (1721-1764) - the favorite of the French King Louis XV Le Bien Aimé, (1710-1774). Their head had to be shaved on the guillotine during the final collapse - Ancien Régime - the old order , but not losers Marie Antoinette, Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna von Habsburg-Lothringen,( 1755-1793) and Louis XVI, (1754-1793), , who paid for not understanding of the main trends of that time.

   This was the time of scientific interpretation of history, its philosophical analysis and comprehension. There was a stormy search for new ways of the development of society, adapting the world order to the requirements of that  time.In the eyes of a new man dumped a shell of almost medieval relationships.There was a free man who could not accept the limitations of the feudal society, which ended up to the end.

   The Enlightenment began in the second half of the XVII century and lasted until the French Revolution.

   The search were in different realms and in different directions. Philosophers, politicians, entrepreneurs looked out the future. Someone rested on himself the "perfect" past, which was the interpretation  as a certain perfect state of human society and man.Someone went even further and rested on himself the "perfect" nature, which he interpreted as a certain perfect state of human society and man - such a lost Paradise. Someone was looking for a support in the mystical insight or humanized religion.

   In France educational rationalism was dominated ,which considered that the main goal of the society is human happiness,the path to which - the reorganization of society in accordance with the principles dictated by the mind, were adherents of the theory of natural law. It was this that generated the idea of progress, positive, rational development - the consistent development of mankind through the acquisition of new knowledge, improvement of the social system and improvement of living conditions. The leaders of these ideas in France were Paul Heinrich Dietrich Baron von Holbach, (1723-1789), Denis Diderot, (1713-1784),Jean Le Rond D’ Alembert, (1717-1783), Claude Adrien Helvétius, (1715- 1771),Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de La Brède et de Montesquieu, (1689-1755),Voltaire, François Marie Arouet, (1694-1778).

   In England, enlightening rationalism tended to pragmatism, empiricism, which became a special feature of the Anglo-Saxon world. The leaders of these ideas in England were Thomas Hobbes, (1588-1679), John Locke,( 1632-1704), David Hume, (1711-1776) and Isaac Newton, (1642-1727).

   Instead, in the shredded German lands in the Enlightenment  sufficed borrowed from the French rationalism, and also typically for Germans  sentimentality and mysticism.The leaders of the Enlightenment in Germany were Friedrich Schiller, (1759-1805), Gotthold Ephraim Lessing, (1729- 1781), Immanuel Kant, (1724-1804) and of course Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832).

  During the era of  Enlightenment the public life emerged.The essential issues of society began to be discussed in the press, which was then born, discussion clubs, salons, in assemblies, and, importantly, in cafes. But also in the Masonic lodges, which in the XVIII century have gained their heyday.

   In different European countries the Academies began to form.The example for them became The Royal Society of London for the Improvement of Natural Knowledge, 1662. Honestly, it was a high Masonic lodge, which united thinkers, scientists, researchers of nature and the world. In France, appeared the French Academy of Science(Académie des sciences, 1666).  In German was the Prussian Academy of  Sciences (Preußische Akademie der Wissenschaften, 1700).

   As we can notice, the part of the Enlightenment was the movement of f Freemasonry, the world order, which set itself the goal of changing society by influencing it on the power bodies and statesmen, as changing or "building" the person himself - members of his lodges.A lot of prominent figures of this era belonged to this movement. Among them are Montesquieu, Voltaire, Alexander Pope (1688-1744), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791), Goethe, Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), George Washington (George Washington, 1732-1799) and even the kings and the Friedrich II von Hohenzollern (1712-1786).

   And what about Italy? In fact, then, Italy was only a territory, and not a state, a territory with a distinct, somewhat provincial, but at the same time a place of pilgrimage - especially a cultural pilgrimage. It was a huge ruin of old Rome and the treasury of the Italian Renaissance. The specificity of the Italian Enlightenment - the network - was its special, vividly national character. At the beginning of the eighteenth century in Italy, the educational mood broke out for itself, speaking at times in the most unexpected forms for pan-European context and spreading channels that were not characteristic of other countries. Journalistic studies were followed (scientific newspapers and magazines were published), scientific and literary associations worked, for example, the Academy of Arcadia (Accademia dell'Arcadia, 1690) and its branches throughout the country, whose members were Giovanni Mario Crescimbeni, 1663-1728), Gian Vincenzo Gravina (1664-1718), Ludovico Antonio Muratori (1672-1750). In Italy, the leaders of the Enlightenment were Giambattista Vico (1668-1744), Caesar Beccaria (1738-1794), Pietro Verri (1728-1797), Vittorio Alfieri, 1749-1803), but also Giovanni Battista Piranesi.Well, of course, whole bunch of different kinds of semi-thinkers, semi-freemasons, semi charlatans, such as Alessandro Cagliostro, Giuseppe Balsamo, 1743-1795) - fun libertines  and pseudoscientists - at least they were funny guys.

   Piranesi realized the need for knowledge in the field of cultural and historical development of previous epochs. He always remembered his educational mission, Piranesi focused on future generations, and his works gave impetus to artistic ideas that could be realized in the future. That is why the personality of Piranesi is of interest as the most striking example in European art, which manifests the characteristic features of the Enlightenment.

   For the XVIII century was characterized by a special interest in the historical past (the idealized era of ancient Rome, Greece, natural, Paradise, etc.),which is reflected in the work of Piranesi. He constantly turned to national traditions, especially Italian art of different periods. The creativity of Piranesi was characterized by bold innovation, fearlessness in the offer of new ideas. Piranesi said that he would have been mad enough to embark on a plan of a new universe.We can notice it in a secret form in its conductors  because it is a hint of the direction where the  humanity should "return" - to the ancient, full of glory, order and prosperity of the Roman era. However, the definition of "return to the ancient Roman era" is very general. Of course, the artist can restrict himself to this general reference - for that he is an artist. However, we can, from a distance of time, already see these queries more discursively.

   Thinkers of the Enlightenment went in three ways:

  By way of rationalism. Man was offered to change himself through the comprehension of a new entity for himself - the essence of rational.And here for the first time appeared the concept of progress, development - both man and society. And at the same time society, social relations should be rationalized as well as thinking of a human. Firstly, everything that was in the world needed to be properly named and systematized. That is why systemic sciences developed so rapidly. Then put these proper names and systems in the minds of people. The Enlightenment thinkers attempted to create a rational, intelligent environment for a person, and rationalize its world. It is understandable that the reformation of human society was a proposal by Voltaire, Diderot, Montesquieu. Moreover, it is necessary to rationalize its environment, an architectonic environment in which  person lives.Because the new man was increasingly losing touch with nature, pastoral, and more and more used in the car-for-life - the urban landscape. Nevertheless, this way was to "build" a person from inside through its rationalization.

   By naturalization. At the same time, the person was offered to "return" to his natural, natural state, the primary "Paradise", which a person lost due to distorted socialization (read urbanization).It was suggested to return to the natural environment of a person, to the virgin forest, lost Paradise, and so in fact to the pastor, which dreamy ladies  loved. It was also promoted by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712-1778). Perfecting the primitive society, Rousseau contrasted the contemporary social system to a happy life in the so-called "natural state", when all the people, in his opinion, were equal and free. Rousseau's proposal was to "build" a person from the outside - through a return to the "natural state", on the bosom of nature, to the primitive society.

   But there was a third way.It was discussed by free masonries in their Academies and lodges.They combined the "building" of a person from within through improvements in the Academies, schools and lodges, and from the outside - through the equalization of all people, through the expansion of the field of freedom. Freemasonry was not limited to rationalism, pragmatism, agnosticism, atheism, or a single religion or denomination - it accepted everything, even an educational faith in the Great Creator of the Universe.

   And what about Piranesi?In line with the spirit of the era, he also modeled the world of his people in his veduta. Did he really reproduce the ruins of "lost Paradise" - ancient Rome? Yes and no. In fact, he, like everyone else, modeled the "Rome of the Future". Giovanni Battista Piranesi modeled the ideal, classical, architectonic, but also social spaces for the future man.

   Two main important dates in his life the  birth (1720) and the death (1778) nearly had to limit his influence. The frames of the Enlightenment era were somewhat wider (the preconditions of the Enlightenment epoch appeared at the beginning of the XVIII century), and secondly, the "era of Piranesi" did not end with the death of the master, his artistic ideas continued to exist in the work of the masters of the XIX and even the XX century. He has expanded such architectonic and social spatial resolution for people  that are still relevant. For example, the contemporary remixes by Robert Venturi, (1925-2018) ,where he compared Las Vegas to Rome Piranesi.

   Who else in Italy has modeled next to him these spaces of the future? Thinkers-enlighteners - yes. Clerics - no. Aristocrats - either not. First of all, Giambattista Vico, who is  the founder of the theory of historical cycles, the psychology of peoples and the comparative method of historical knowledge. In his philosophical writings, Vico set himself the task of presenting a coherent picture of the world - its past, present and future on the basis of the doctrine of the development of human society in the form of repetitive cycles, the constant renewal of mankind, the movement from decay to regeneration. It should be mentioned that Vico especially distinguished Rome as a cultural-historical phenomenon - this is typical for the Italian Enlightenment. Therefore, Rome was so much admired by Piranesi.

   However, despite the fact that his patron was the representative of Ancien Régime Étienne François de Choiseul, (1719-1785) ,  who visited Rome and the environment was more modest, and at the same time more ambitious. The circle of communication of Piranesi consisted of representatives of different spheres of art, who fell under the magic talent of a great Italian.It is understandable , that "Venetian architect" primarily affected architects. To recall at least the influence that Piranesi had on Robert Adam (1728-1792) , who was the Scottish architect of the dynasty of the Palladians Adam, the most famous representative of the British classicism of the XVIII century. He was one of the founders of neoclassicism in English architecture. But the most interesting of these acquaintances is that Adam was a prominent member of the Royal Society of London, and the Edinburgh Royal Society - the official form of the highest lodges of England and Scotland. As a friend of Piranesi, Robert Adam wrote about him: "The impressive and brilliant imaginations that he managed to embody in various forms of temples, palaces, is the most unusual source of inspiration and creativity that can only be imagined for any amateur of architecture." The style of Robert Adam himself was formed by the study and comprehension of the works of Piranesi. In his book Ruins of the Palace of the Emperor DoikJetian at Spalato (1764), Adam argued that interior decoration in the Roman style became a model for contemporary architect.

    Not only Robert Adam, but Sir William Chambers (1723-1796), Sir John Soane (1753-1837) used the motives of Piranesi.

   William Chambers during his stay in Italy from 1750 to 1755, like Adam, fell under the influence of Piranesi. His major construction was Somerset House (1776-1796) - a huge administrative and government building in London. The Somerset House directly resembles the Piranesi engravings, for example, from the collection «Vedute di Roma» (1778).

   The series of Piranesi "Le Antichita Romane" - the designs of ancient bridges significantly influenced Scottish architect Robert Mylne (1733-1811) - it is about his project of the London Bridge, the kind of which was in 1764 depicted by Piranesi in the drawing of the author "A view of part of the intended bridge at Blackfriars "in London.

   Instead, another mason John Soane tried to create, in his words, "poetic architecture."In 1778, Soane met Piranesi. In London, replicating Piranesi, Soane built the Freemasons' Hall, (1828-1831).

   It was an architectonic and social construction of the world in Masonic style.

   Was Piranesi a freemasson? Maybe was or maybe not. Maybe he just communicated with them. They were mainly Englishmen, Scots and Frenchmen, and his friends, and his customers. Moreover,  he designed an English cafe in Piazza di Spagna in Rome and he turned to Egyptian antiquity, to the Egyptian architectonics. In essence,he created fashion.Thus, long before the Napoleon’s military expeditions to Egypt, Piranesi managed to turn interest in the far Egyptian civilization, becoming a forerunner of the process of the development of Egyptology. Where is this from? Of course, the freemasons, who also stylized their rituals in the ancient Egyptian style. And he not only stylized, but also sought in that ancient Egyptian any transient truths.

   However, with free thinking in Italy was not easy. In the XVIII century. Italy really was only a geographical concept with different jurisdictions and limited freedom. Initially, the Enlightenment did not meet the resistance. Lodges were opened in Florence, then in Livorno, in the Naples Kingdom, then in Milan, in the Republic of Venice, in the papal ecclesiastical state, in Rome. As a rule, they were founded by foreigners and the rituals were English or French. In Italian lodges gathered Catholics, Protestants, and Jews.And it from the church’s point of view was a heresy. In addition, their members were educators, rationalists, deists and agnostics. So Clemens PP. XII; Lorenzo Corsini, 1652-1740), a weak, sick, almost blind, signed in 1738 prepared by the Papal bull - bull "In eminenti". With it he cursed freemasons , just as his predecessors once cursed the Jansenites. Now, of course, this curse is taken off.

   This has affected the public atmosphere. In Italian territories freemasons, and behind them and all other enlighteners, were forced to go underground. Enlighteners, rationalists, atheists or deists had to conceal, hide, stay in the shadows. Not for long, of course. Everything changed with the French Revolution. Fresh wind began to blow. But Piranesi didn’t see it, however he foretold this changes already.

   This reaction was reflected in the scaring cycle of Piranesi  «Capricci di Carceri» (1749-1759) -  "Prisons" or "Dungeons". We know two periods of life and work of Piranesi - Venetian (1720-1740) and Roman (1740-1778).

   Venice is one of the centers for the spread of educational culture, where in the eighteenth century many representatives of the enlightened intelligentsia lived and worked - Scipione Maffei (1675-1755), Carlo Lodoli (1690-1761), Francesco Algarotti, 1712-1764).

   Rome at the beginning of the XVIII century - a thriving artistic capital, the center of culture and art - one of the main European centers of the Enlightenment - the main and final point of the Grand Tour - a great journey to Europe, which was carried out by almost all educated representatives of the age of the Enlightenment.

   The teacher of Soane since 1759 was a mason George Dance, (1695-1768) and had a six-year architecture course in Rome. The Newgate Prison (1768-1780), built by him in London (demolished in 1902) with heavy chain garlands above the entrance gate, caused the same horror as the fantastic "Prisons" of Piranesi in his series «Capricci di Carceri», with whom Dance met in Rome.

   And here we notice not only the bright side of the creativity of Piranesi, but also it’s dark side. "Capricci di Carceri" has shown the disappointment of the aging and disappointed Piranesi - to build a new man and a new society was not so easy. Even not looking at the greatness of the endlessly depicted buildings and ruins of the majestic Rome, Rome, which he himself imagined. Labyrinths of Dungeons  better reflected the real state of the Italian, and not only Italian societies. He did not see the greatness of the Great and Bloody French Revolution. A new and majestic was born in this bloody whirlwind. Napoléon I Bonaparte, (1769-1821), is an Italian too also provincial, carried out what Piranesi was talking about in his veduta. It was Napoleon who made the imperial Roman style a reality - in every detail - from fashion, furniture, architecture, to imperial Roman eagles.

   In the Piranesi Printmaking contemporary architects found the basis for the projects of buildings of superhuman size, following Piranesi, a clear propensity to gigantomania. For example, the French architect (Marie-Joseph Peyre, 1730-1785) followed this megalomania, which from 1753 to 1756 studied at the French Academy in Rome. His main goal was to create  a new monumental architecture in the spirit of "heroic neoclassicism", which arose from the ancient "prototypes" of Piranesi. Two French architects Étienne-Louis Boullée, (1728-1799) and Claude Nicolas Ledoux, (1736-1806) also followed

Piranesi gigantomania.

   Made by Claude Nicolas Ledoux, projects in the spirit of "heroic neoclassicism" of the revolutionary era in France resembled antique buildings. And his project of an ideal city or utopia - de l'utopie de la Ville de Chaux in the plan is similar to the letter "Ichnographia" from the collection of Piranesi "Il Campo Marzio del Antica Roma" (1762). Executed by Étienne-Louis Boullée, the project of the museum (1783) resembles the Vesti temple from the works of Piranesi "Prima Parte di Architettura, e Prospettive" (1747).

   The age of the Enlightenment was full of utopian ideas, which was also reflected in the collection of Piranesi "Il Campo Marzio del Antica Roma", which looks like a sort of phantasmagoria, but it was in this collection that Piranese proposed the ideal model for a new city. He expressed his nostalgia for a dreamy future and never realized “ new Rome” in the collection Vedute di Roma (1778).

   The monumentality of the Doristic style of the Temples of Paestum has become a dominant example in the environments of German architects such as Friedrich David Gilly (1772-1800), Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841), Leo von Klenze, 1784-1864).

   The monumentality of the Doristic style of the Paestum Temple became a dominant example in the environments of German architects such as Friedrich David Gilly (1772-1800), Karl Friedrich Schinkel (1781-1841), Leo von Klenze, 1784-1864).

   Thus Giovanni Battista Piranesi was the creator of the future from the past. And not only in the sense of his architectural proposals or fantasies, but also in the sense of his direct participation in the creation of a new world. It seems that his graphics should change the world, humanize and rationalize it, but also a human ,who would live in the changed  architectonic and social world. Did he succeed? To the end, of course, no. "And here we went out to see the light again"-Giacomo Girolamo Casanova, (1725-1798) finished  the fifteenth chapter of «Histoire de ma vie»-the history of his life. The next chapter begins with the phrase: "I am coming out of dungeon." The End “Hell” Giacomo Girolamo Casanova was in Rome. But the times have changed. Giovanni Battista Piranesi made a contribution that the world and a human today are as they are.



October 8, 2018, Lviv