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Roman antiquities, Giovanni Battista Piranesi published c1807
Born in Mogliano close to Venice, Piranesi, although trained as an architect became famous as an engraver, and archaeologist. Moving in 1740 to Rome, a lack of architectural commissions led him to develop etching skills and collaborating with pupils of the French Academy in Rome he produced a series of views of the city.
These early works, Prima parte di Architettura e Prospettive (1743), followed in 1745 by Varie Vedute di Roma Antica e Moderna were produced during the era of the Grand Tour; when noblemen in the 18th century, completed their education with a period of European travel. This so-called Grand Tour could last from a few months to many years.
At this time most ancient monuments in Rome were abandoned in fields and gardens. Piranesi's precise observational skills allowed him to preserve them in some way with his engravings. A third of the monuments in Piranesi's engravings have now disappeared, and many had the stucco and surfacing stolen.
With the publication in 1756 of Le Antichità Romane there was immediate international success and Piranesi was elected a member of the Society of Antiquaries in London in 1757. The etchings, with their combination of technical skill, historical accuracy and artistic vision, Robert Adam observed, "he alone might be said to breath the Antient Air."