Carceri, thermae and candelabra


Piranesi’s etching which purports to show a statue gallery at Hadrian’s Villa was published in 1770 as part of the artist’s Vedute di Roma series, and conveniently provides a themed link for a pair of new exhibitions. The artist’s attribution of statue gallery was a mistaken one, the structure is actually the remains of Hadrian’s thermae, or baths, but archaeology was still in its infancy in the 18th century so mistakes were inevitable. If you’re fortunate enough to be in Venice during the next two months the Fondazione Cini has a major exhibition of Piranesi’s work, The Art of Piranesi: architect, engraver, antiquarian, vedutista, designer. On display are over three hundred prints which no doubt include many of the Vedute di Roma.


Ornamental candelabrum created by Factum Arte from a design by Piranesi.

Good as that sounds, what’s especially notable about this exhibition is a presentation of three-dimensional works specially created from Piranesi’s designs for candelabra, fireplaces, and other objects based on his studies of artefacts from the ancient world. These pieces have been produced by Factum Arte who have a great website showing the finished pieces and also a page detailing the production of the objects. Also on that page is one of the exhibition’s other features, a 10-minute video by Gregoire Dupond which cleverly joins together and animates a journey through several of Piranesi’s Carceri d’invenzione (Imaginary Prisons). The music accompaniment is Bach’s Cello Suite 2 which happens to be the piece played by Yo-Yo Ma in an earlier animation of the Carceri, so it’s a reasonable guess that the earlier film was an inspiration for this new work. The exhibition runs to November 21, 2010.


Jack’s Bath (2010) by Danny Jauregui. Gouache on canvas.

Hadrian’s obsession with his doomed lover Antinous makes the Emperor a gay icon which explains the connection between Piranesi’s view of the ruined baths and an exhibition of work by American artist Danny Jauregui. There Goes the Neighborhood is at the Leslie Tonkonow Gallery, New York, and features a selection of Jauregui’s paintings of tiles from the bathhouses which were a feature of gay life in the days before AIDS.

I make paintings of bathhouses in ruin. Moldy, disheveled and abandoned, the paintings are memorials to the absence of memorials – indexes of the traumatic erasure inflicted on the radical gay sexuality of the past. They are paintings of what I imagine those spaces to look like, had they not been disguised and hidden from sight. (More.)

The exhibition runs until October 30, 2010. By coincidence gay news blog Towleroad had a post yesterday about New York’s first anti-gay police raid on the Ariston Baths in 1903.


Time Bandits.

Seeing as I posted the picture of Hadrian’s baths I have to also post this shot from Terry Gilliam’s Time Bandits (1981) showing the interior of the Fortress of Ultimate Darkness. Here we see the Piranesi’s ruined baths incorporated into a vast and gloomy space which must surely be inspired by the Carceri, the views of Rome being absorbed by the artist’s darker imaginings. And for a final piece of trivia, writer Marguerite Yourcenar is not only the author of Memoirs of Hadrian (1951), a novel about the Emperor’s passion for Antinous, but also penned an essay about the Carceri. I haven’t read either of those works so I think it’s time to add them to the shopping list.

Update: For those in the UK, there’s also Piranesi’s Prisons, an exhibition at the Mead Gallery, Warwick, from now until December.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The etching and engraving archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
La Tour by Schuiten & Peeters
Set in Stone
Hadrian and Greek love
Piranesi as designer
Vedute di Roma
Aldous Huxley on Piranesi’s Prisons
The Cult of Antinous