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Giovanni Battista Piranesi
The Drawbridge
c. 1761 - 1778
etching and engraving on paper
Plate: 22 × 16 1/4 inches (55.9 × 41.3 cm)Framed: 41 3/4 × 31 3/4 × 7/8 inches (106 × 80.6 × 2.2 cm)
Credit Line
Gift of Julianna F. Waring.
Accession Number
Piranesi, a technically brilliant and enormously expressive printmaker, was one of the most important artists of the 18th century. Piranesi's Carceri series presents immense, terrible, awe-inspiring prisons, existing only in the artist's imagination. Plate VII from this series displays a cavernous and rambling structure, teeming with staircases, suspended walkways, and a prominent drawbridge, all arranged around a colossal column. The small human figures traversing the endless stairs and walks are antlike, dwarfed by the vastness of the space. Cables, lanterns, and machinery further litter the prison's vast interior, contributing to the ominous and shadowy effect of the whole. The Carceri series is a testament to both Piranesi's boundless imagination, and the contemporary taste for the sublime, or subjects inspiring awe, mystery, and fear. The primacy of the imagination and a predilection for the sublime would characterize the emergent Romantic movement, which had its roots in images like Piranesi's Carceri prints.