Giovanni Piranesi Etchings, ca. 1785

Value (2012) | $50,000 Auction$70,000 Auction

My father was an architect after World War II. He was very interested in neo-classical features. And as a result of being sort of a renaissance man, he collected all sorts of encyclopedias, different kinds of books like these books, and amassed a very large library.

Well, these are an incredible selection of books of works by the great 18th century Italian printmaker Giovanni Piranesi. Piranesi was one of the most important architectural printmakers in Italy. He was born in the Venetian Republic, but he moved to Rome in 1740 and studied under Giuseppe Vasi, who is one of the leading printmakers of his day. As an architect, he learned the art of printmaking to try and capture the history of the Roman Republic in his architectural history. This is a portrait of Piranesi issued just shortly after his death. And we have in this volume a frontispiece, very deeply evocative frontispiece dedicated to the King of Sweden. And you can see here some of the features that make Piranesi so prized-- the contrast of light and shade. This particular volume is a series of etchings trying to capture the history of Roman architecture from the earliest days. Now, you've got a large group of volumes here. These are all of a set. This book is another edition of Piranesi's works. It's called the Magnificenza, and it is a study he did of trying to prove that Roman architecture did not come from the Greeks, but actually was inspired by the Etruscans, who preceded the Roman Empire. As you can see, the wonderful, large format prints that he would do, the incredible detail makes these works very, very prized, not only by architects and historians of early ancient Roman history, but also for their incredible beauty and pictorial power. Now, most of these volumes over the intervening years were broken up. And you now see people buying prints individually from Piranesi in various places. The condition of the volumes is amazing. And these volumes are bound...

Really? Even with the mouse?

That's not uncommon, chipping. But these bindings are early 19th century. The one that we're holding now is 18th century. And sometimes it'll have lots of foxing, which is spotting on the plates or holes from worms. These have none of those evocations. So they're really in extraordinary condition. And you have a total of 330 plates by Piranesi, which is an enormous number. Individually, works like this would be $5,000 to $7,000. This particular case would be about $10,000 to $15,000. But the entire group together, I think the aggregate auction value for the whole collection would be in the range of $50,000 to $70,000.

Thank you, Dad. (laughing)

Appraisal Details

Appraised value (2012)
$50,000 Auction$70,000 Auction
Boston, MA (June 09, 2012)

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