Fantasy of a Magnificent Forum, ca. 1765.

The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, gift of Janos Scholz; 1974.27.

Photograph by Graham S. Haber.


The Morgan Library & Museum Presents

Sublime Ideas: Drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi


New York, NY (March 2, 2023) – The Morgan Library & Museum is pleased to present Sublime Ideas: Drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, on view through June 4, 2023. The Morgan holds the largest and most important collection of drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720–1778), nearly 150 works that encompass almost every type of study that he made: architectural fantasies, studies for prints, measured design drawings, sketches for a range of decorative objects, a variety of figural drawings, and views of Rome and Pompeii. With highlights from the Morgan’s collection joined by select works from private collections, this exhibition will be the most comprehensive look at Piranesi’s drawings in more than a generation.

This exhibition begins with Piranesi’s interest in theoretical architecture, showing works that combine an imaginative and fantastic approach to architectural study with a bookish understanding of ancient buildings and a Romantic appreciation of ruins. This blend of fantasy and theory would eventually give birth to the Invenzioni caprici di carceri (Capricious Inventions of Prisons), his most famous work. The drawings in the Morgan’s collection show how Piranesi’s work developed from precise architectural drawings to imaginative fantasies. Later sections of the exhibition document Piranesi’s study of the inventive work of Tiepolo in a series of trips tohis native Venice, his turn from architectural theory and fantasy to archaeology, and his work as a practicing architect and as a designer and dealer of classicizing interior decoration.

The exhibition also highlights the role of paper in Piranesi’s working practice, showing his use and reuse of earlier drawings in later works. Close study of his surviving sheets makes clear that Piranesi preserved drawings in the workshop to serve as inspiration for future projects, and many sheets have reworking that can be dated years after the original drawing, a testament to the continual reuse of his archive.

Highlights of the exhibition include Design for a Ceremonial Gondola (1745–47), a large and fanciful design for a craft that was surely never set afloat; Piranesi nonetheless reused much of the decorative language in subsequent works. Piranesi’s Fantasy of a Magnificent Forum (ca. 1765) is one of his most accomplished fantasies, showing a play on ancient Roman architecture in a dramatic sketch that was likely dashed off as a command performance of his skill as a draftsman. The Proposed Alteration of San Giovanni in Laterano, with Columnar Ambulatory (ca. 1763-64) is Piranesi’s largest architectural drawing, a rendering almost five feet wide with an ambitious plan for the expansion of one of the largest churches in Rome. In addition, this exhibition includes a number of preparatory designs for his etchings, including very rare proof impressions of his printed views of Rome and Tivoli with drawn corrections by the artist. The exhibition ends with a group of large drawings of Pompeii, made in the bold style that Piranesi adopted in the last few years of his life. 


Architectural Fantasy with a Colossal Facade, ca. 1743–45.

The Morgan Library & Museum, New York, purchased as the gift of Alice Tully; 1971.4.

Photograph by Janny Chiu, 2020.


The Morgan’s Director, Colin B. Bailey, said, “Given the depth of our collection of drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the Morgan has long been a leading institution in the study of his works. This new exhibition, the most complete showing of our Piranesis since 1989, reflects long study as well as new discoveries, and will bring Piranesi alive to a new generation of visitors.”

This exhibition is curated by John Marciari, Charles W. Engelhard Curator, Head of the Department of Drawings and Prints, and Curatorial Chair. Marciari is also the author of the accompanying publication, which reaches beyond the Morgan’s collections to offer a complete survey of Piranesi’s work as a draftsman.

Marciari explains, “Very few of Piranesi’s drawings were carefully finished works made for sale or exhibition, but in looking closely at the hundreds of working drawings that survive, we not only see the artist devising new ideas and working through problems, but also understand how the archive of drawings served his workshop as a constant source of inspiration.”


Sublime Ideas: Drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi



Sublime Ideas: Drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi is made possible by the Gilbert & Ildiko

Butler Family Foundation; the Lucy Ricciardi Family Exhibition Fund; the Christian Humann

Foundation; the Wolfgang Ratjen Stiftung, Liechtenstein; and Joshua W. Sommer. Generous

support is provided by the Berger Collection Education Trust and Alyce Williams Toonk, with

additional support from the George Ortiz Collection, Robert Dance, the Gladys Krieble Delmas

Foundation, and Russell and Marian Burke. 



A museum and independent research library located in the heart of New York City, the Morgan Library & Museum began as the personal library of financier, collector, and cultural benefactor Pierpont Morgan. The Morgan offers visitors close encounters with great works of human accomplishment in a setting treasured for its intimate scale and historic significance. Its collection of manuscripts, rare books, music, drawings, and works of art comprises a unique and dynamic record of civilization, as well as an incomparable repository of ideas and of the creative process from 4000 BC to the present. 


The Morgan Library & Museum | 225 Madison Avenue | 212.685.0008 | 


Visit AAQ / Museum Architecture: The Morgan Library & Museum, NYC / 2006



AAQ / Resource: Ben Krupinski Builder