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”

Two covers


More new work of mine has been unveiled in the past few days so I can show these here. The Buried Life and Cities and Thrones are a pair of fantasy novels by new author Carrie Patel being published by Angry Robot. I was asked to provide something in an engraved style set against a black background, with imagery that reflected themes of vast, underground architecture and armed conflict.


Vast architecture of any description is something I’ve always enjoyed, the main challenge with each book came in trying to imply the architecture and events without the pictorial content becoming incoherent. Marc at Angry Robot asked for something Piranesian where the architecture was concerned. Looking over Piranesi’s non-Carceri designs didn’t turn up anything with a suitably dramatic perspective, however, so most of what you see in the first cover comes from Giuseppe Galli Bibiena’s Architetture e Prospettive (1740). The Bibienas were a family of architects and theatrical engineers who specialised in dizzying perspective views for their stage designs; Bibiena’s book was produced to preserve some of his more celebrated designs, the originals of which are now lost. I’ve had a book of these drawings for years but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to make use of them in any kind of collage.


This style of Baroque architecture doesn’t suit steampunk imagery which tends towards 19th-century urban/industrial; the plates are also rather staid scenes without the graphic flare that Piranesi gave to everything he rendered, real or imagined. But I do like those plunging perspectives, and pieces from two of the plates turned out to share both the same perspective and the same lighting direction. It’s easy to collage things into a flat view but creating a realistic sense of depth from bits and pieces can be tricky.


The frame for the second cover has more of a Piranesian quality being chipped and eroded. The typography for the titles went through several changes, the versions here show a late suggestion of mine with lettering that’s probably too thin to read well at a distance (or a small size on a web page). SF Signal has a post showing the Angry Robot versions which will probably be the final ones, together with a preview of the first book.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Aldous Huxley on Piranesi’s Prisons