Sheer Invention

Piranesi’s originality lay in his eclecticism. Pulling together influences from Egyptian, Etruscan, Ancient Roman, and Greek designs, Piranesi presented a hybrid design system that was rooted in his commitment to the stature and importance of the Roman design heritage. From this starting point, the architectural elements move from historical recreations to articulated fantasy. While his contemporaries championed the supremacy of the Greek taste, Piranesi held on to his belief that the Romans were every bit as relevant to the course of architecture and design.

Much like post-modern architects, Piranesi believed that new design can result from re-combining existing motifs, ideas, and designs. One look at the magnificent spread of his imaginary architectural composition in the Parere su l’Architettura of 1765 instantly reveals his design aesthetic. Not only is the façade enormous, but it demonstrates an assemblage of elements from all the ancient sites and cultures from the Mediterranean. Greco-Roman elements are balanced on Egyptian lintels and pillars and columns support strange hybrids.

At the time, Piranesi was keenly aware of how his originality was ruffling the feathers of his Italian contemporaries, many of whom considered him a difficult personality and gave him a wide berth. Undaunted, Piranesi’s rebuttal to their disapproval of his design aesthetic was, “They despise my novelty, I their timidity.”