The other Carceri


Dark prison with a courtyard for the punishment of criminals (c.1750) by Giovanni Battista Piranesi. (NB: not one of the Carceri d’Invenzione although it is another imaginary prison.)

Piranesi’s etchings of imaginary prisons, the Carceri d’Invenzione, are his most celebrated and influential works but they’re not the only such views to be found in 18th-century art. What you see here are some of the prison settings designed for the theatre and opera of the time, where incarceration or unjust imprisonment was a recurrent theme. Beethoven’s only opera, Fidelio, is one of the more famous examples, with all the action taking place inside the walls of a Spanish prison.


Prison Courtyard with Figures (c. 1720). Attributed to Francesco Galli Bibiena.

Many of these designs are by various Galli Bibienas, a multi-generational family of Italian artists and architects who included theatrical designers among their talented number. The Galli Bibienas’ prisons lack the invention and menace of Piranesi’s etchings—many of them look as neat and tidy as their designs for colossal gardens and palaces—but I enjoy the dramatic perspectives all the same.


Prison Interior (c.1725–1730) by Antonio Galli Bibiena.


Print depicting the Prison scene in the opera-ballet Cerere placata at the Royal Palace of Jove (1772). Carlo Bibiena (artist) and Giovanni Battista Nolli (etcher).


Design for a stage set: the interior of a prison. School of Francesco Galli Bibiena.

Continue reading “The other Carceri”

Weekend links 608


The Temple, an illustration from The Ship that Sailed to Mars (1923) by William Timlin.

• “With the grotteschi, Piranesi produced hybrid forms of ornament juxtaposed in an array without regard to single-point perspective. With his capricci, he brought disparate structures into a landscape that existed only within the borders of the plate. Perhaps because of his early fidelity to accuracy and the long tradition of printmaking as a medium for the measured representation of antique forms, Piranesi’s capricci take on a particularly fantastic aura.” Susan Stewart on the ruinous fantasias of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, one of whose etchings happens to be providing the page header this month.

• At Dangerous Minds: 23rd Century Giants, the incredible true story of Renaldo & The Loaf! Oliver Hall conducts a long and very informative interview with two of Britain’s strangest music makers.

• New music: Nightcrawler by Kevin Richard Martin, recommended to anyone who enjoys the nocturnal doom of Bohren & Der Club Of Gore; and Murmurations by Lea Bertucci & Ben Vida.

“Throughout the book, McCarthy writes as if he knows something that more conventional historians aren’t always keen to accept: that the past doesn’t always make sense, that it’s often cruel and irrational, and that some things aren’t so explainable. History is not a book waiting to be opened so much as a Pandora’s box that might curse us and leave us chastened by what we find inside.”

Bennett Parten on Cormac McCarthy’s baleful masterpiece, Blood Meridian

• “Inside me are two wolves and they are both paintings by Kazimierz Stabrowski.” S. Elizabeth‘s latest art discoveries.

• At Wormwoodiana: Mark Valentine on Arthur Machen and the mysteries of the Grail.

• RIP Betty Davis and Douglas Trumbull.

• At Dennis Cooper’s: Tobe Hooper Day.

Temple Bells (1959) by Frank Hunter And His Orchestra | Temple Of Gold (1960) by Les Baxter | Temple (2018) by Jóhann Jóhannsson