Piranesi record covers


Title page for the Carceri d’Invenzione (second state), 1761.

Continuing an occasional series about artists or designers whose work has appeared on record sleeves. Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778) is a cult figure here so this is an inevitable post even if there isn’t a great deal to look at. Many of the record covers that use Piranesi etchings are for classical releases, which isn’t so surprising. The prints that comprise the Vedute di Roma were Piranesi’s most popular works, and remain so today despite their exaggerations of the true size of Rome’s monuments and ruins. But I thought the Carceri d’Invenzione (aka The Prisons) might be more popular, especially in the metal world where dark and gloomy imagery is de rigueur. There may be more examples, of course, since I’m having to rely on Discogs which doesn’t always note the work of uncredited artists. I suspect that architecture alone isn’t attractive enough for the metal hordes, however vast and tenebrous that architecture might be. The covers I’ve done for metal bands have always had to incorporate figures—human or otherwise—or some kind of occult symbolism. The most prominent musical piece based on Piranesi’s Prisons is also a classical work, one of the Bach cello suites recorded by Yo-Yo Ma in 1998. Ma’s album, Inspired By Bach, was accompanied by six films from different directors; the film for Suite No. 2, The Sound of the Carceri by François Girard, shows Ma playing the piece inside a CGI rendering of Piranesi’s colossal spaces. Copies of Girard’s film come and go on YouTube so this one may not stay around.


Luigi Dallapiccola: Il Prigioniero (1975); National Symphony Orchestra Of Washington DC, Antal Dorati.


Palestrina: Missa Aeterna Christi Munera / Oratio Jeremiae Prophetae / Motetti (1976); Pro Cantione Antiqua, London.


Tartini: Concerti Per Violino E Orchestra / Sonate (1981); P. Toso, I Solisti Veneti, C. Scimone, E. Farina.


Captivation (1994) by Tefilla.

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Aleister Crowley: Wandering The Waste


I mentioned this graphic biography of Aleister Crowley earlier in the year but pressure of work has meant it’s taken me all this time to finally read it. Aleister Crowley: Wandering The Waste is written by Martin Hayes and illustrated by RH Stewart. The title alludes to Alastor, or The Spirit of Solitude, a Shelley poem concerning an itinerant poet with whom Crowley often identified.

Crowley isn’t a stranger to the comics world but this book is the first I’ve encountered that devotes itself to the facts of the man’s life rather than using his notorious persona as a general purpose scare figure. Crowley’s life was nothing if not eventful: in addition to the numerous rituals and magickal exploits, he was also a serious mountaineer, and something of a globetrotter before his inheritance ran out; he wrote novels, memoirs, several volumes of poetry, even more volumes of occult philosophy, and was a world-class drug-taker and libertine in an age when sexual escapades of the mildest sort could provoke the deepest outrage.

Given all of this you’d expect somebody to have tried to film his life by now, but doing so presents a number of problems. Period biopics are by their nature very expensive which is why they tend to take the least controversial figures for their subjects. Crowley isn’t only controversial, his life’s work remains esoteric and difficult for a general audience; you’d have to work hard to dispel Devil Rides Out clichés for people who’ve never opened an occult book. There’s no life without the magick, however, so you’re unlikely to get either trying to follow the costume-drama route. In the past I’ve thought that a better solution would be to adopt the jigsaw approach used in François Girard’s Thirty Two Short Films About Glenn Gould (1993); significant moments could be dramatised as they are in the Gould film while other sections could be more graphical, abstract or theoretical.


Hayes and Stewart’s book goes for the traditional biopic approach (albeit with some deviations), there being no reason not to when you have an unlimited budget. It’s 1947, and Crowley in his Hastings nursing home remembers his life for a young visitor, delivering a narrative that ranges across seventy years, and which acknowledges the more scandalous moments whilst also repudiating some of the rumours. Hayes backs up his facts with copious endnotes, some of which offer more detail about disputed incidents. Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell’s From Hell is the obvious progenitor here; both books show the strength of comics in being able to deliver historical material in a visual form without having to worry about the constraints of cinema.

Stewart’s artwork is from the sketchy, collaged Sienkiewicz/McKean school of comic art. In some scenes I would have preferred more visual detail but then having drawn historical comics myself I know how difficult it can be having to research the appearance of every last piece of clothing or furniture. (The lettering is also afflicted with a few typos.) Some of the scenes away from 1947 are delivered in a fragmented, hallucinatory style in which occult figures and symbols are confused with Crowley’s memories. The technique enables many years to be covered without padding the book to doorstop size while also keeping the magick as a continual background presence. It’s quite a change to have the aged Crowley as the focus for once, a dishevelled magus rather than the usual libidinous firebrand. After so much turmoil, there’s always a sombre atmosphere around the Great Beast’s less-than-beastly final days, although they were considerably more peaceful than those of some of his wives and associates. Whatever regrets or disappointments Crowley may have felt, his books are still in print, and we’re still talking about him.

The Atlantis Bookshop in London has been showing some of Stewart’s artwork throughout this month. I’ve always liked the way the Atlantis doubles as a mini-gallery, I saw some Austin Spare drawings there a few years ago; it’s a good venue, and the ideal place to view this work. The exhibition will run to December 24th.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Brush of Baphomet by Kenneth Anger
Rex Ingram’s The Magician
The Mysteries of Myra
Aleister Crowley on vinyl

Animating Piranesi


Piranesi Carceri d’Invenzione (2010).

When Peacay at BibliOdyssey linked to this short film by Grégoire Dupond I thought it might be one I hadn’t seen before but it turns out I have, and I mentioned the exhibition it was produced for in 2010. No matter, it’s worth drawing attention to again since Monsieur Dupond makes an impressive job of sending a virtual camera through the vast spaces of Piranesi’s Carceri d’invenzione, joining several of the etchings into a series of contiguous chambers.


The Sound of the Carceri (1998).

Dupond’s film uses Bach’s Cello Suite #2 as a musical accompaniment. As noted earlier that choice probably came from Yo-Yo Ma’s Inspired by Bach (1998) in which Bach’s six solo cello suites are performed in different settings. Suite #2 was The Sound of the Carceri directed by François Girard which places the cellist inside a CGI rending of one of Piranesi’s Careri etchings. YouTube has a copy here.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Carceri, thermae and candelabra
La Tour by Schuiten & Peeters
Set in Stone
Piranesi as designer
Vedute di Roma
Aldous Huxley on Piranesi’s Prisons