An Ancient Port

Object Details


An Ancient Port


Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720 - 1778)




1749 - 1750


Red and black chalk and brown and reddish wash, squared in black chalk


38.4 x 52.9 cm (15 1/8 x 20 13/16 in.)

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When he was twenty-three, Piranesi made this preparatory study for an etching. The etching was published as part of a series of architectural and perspective images. He combined arches, pedestals, columns, bridges, and sculptures in an imaginative reconstruction of monumental and complex classical architecture. Piranesi took a creative approach when he made architectural fantasies like this one, using antique ruins as his point of departure. On this process he wrote:

These speaking ruins have filled my spirit with images that accurate drawings, even such as those of the immortal Palladio, could never have succeeded in conveying, though I always kept them before my eyes.

Piranesi first drew the main outlines of the architecture in chalk, then added brown and red wash for shading and details. Small figures in boats are indicated with broad strokes of wash. Varying tones of wash and rapid, squiggly lines evoke atmospheric conditions. A squaring in black chalk lines helped the artist transfer his design to the etching plate.

Italian Master Drawings (May 5 to July 19, 1992)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum, (Malibu), May 5 to July 19, 1992
Drawings from the J. Paul Getty Museum (May 24 to August 8, 1993) (84)
  • The Metropolitan Museum of Art, (New York), May 24 to August 8, 1993
Drawings from the J. Paul Getty Museum (October 29, 1993 to January 23, 1994) (84)
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London), October 29, 1993 to January 23, 1994
The Glory of Venice (September 15, 1994 to July 30, 1995) (84)
  • Royal Academy of Arts (London), September 15 to December 14, 1994
  • National Gallery of Art (Washington, D.C.), January 29 to April 23, 1995
Master Drawings from the J. Paul Getty Museum (December 16, 1997 to February 22, 1998) (84)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), December 16, 1997 to February 22, 1998
Art in Rome in the Eighteenth Century (March 16 to September 17, 2000) (84)
  • Philadelphia Museum of Art, (Philadelphia), March 16 to May 28, 2000
  • Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, June 25 to September 17, 2000
Drawing Italy in the Age of the Grand Tour (February 5 to May 12, 2002) (84)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), February 5 to May 12, 2002
The Poetry of Paper (July 23 to October 20, 2013) (84)
  • The J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Center, (Los Angeles), July 23 to October 20, 2013

"Principales acquisitions des musées en 1988." La Chronique des arts: supplément à la Gazette des beaux-arts, 6th ser., 113, no. 1442 (March 1989), p. 36, no. 195, ill.