Photo © The Courtauld
Smoking fire, 1749-60
Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778)
Beyond the threshold
This etching visualises a dizzying and monumental prison made up of arches, platforms and bridges. While the depth and precision of the tonal details trick the eye into perceiving a convincingly real space, the building is a fictitious structure, a product of the artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi’s imagination. Piranesi was an architectural draughtsman, renowned for his series of architectural fantasies, Invenzioni Capricci di Carceri (Imaginary Prisons). In this drawing from this series, Piranesi plays with the possibilities and limits of architecture, and pushes our understanding of construction and perspective in this transformative, labyrinthine structure.