Monday, 6 October 2014

People influenced by Piranesi

Following on from the research I did before I looked into some of the writers, artists ect that I learnt had taken influence from Piranesi's work.

Thomas De Quincy "Confessions of an English Opium Eater"

Thomas De Quincy does not say much about Piranesi in his book Confessions of an English Opium Eater, he is only mentioned in one paragraph.

"Many years ago, when I was looking over Piranesi’s, Antiquities of Rome, Mr. Coleridge, who was standing by, described to me a set of plates by that artist, called his Dreams, and which record the scenery of his own visions during the delirium of a fever. Some of them (I describe only from memory of Mr. Coleridge’s account) represented vast Gothic halls, on the floor of which stood all sorts of engines and machinery, wheels, cables, pulleys, levers, catapults, &c. &c., expressive of enormous power put forth and resistance overcome. Creeping along the sides of the walls you perceived a staircase; and upon it, groping his way upwards, was Piranesi himself: follow the stairs a little further and you perceive it come to a sudden and abrupt termination without any balustrade, and allowing no step onwards to him who had reached the extremity except into the depths below. Whatever is to become of poor Piranesi, you suppose at least that his labours must in some way terminate here. But raise your eyes, and behold a second flight of stairs still higher, on which again Piranesi is perceived, but this time standing on the very brink of the abyss. Again elevate your eye, and a still more aĆ«rial flight of stairs is beheld, and again is poor Piranesi busy on his aspiring labours; and so on, until the unfinished stairs and Piranesi both are lost in the upper gloom of the hall. With the same power of endless growth and self-reproduction did my architecture proceed in dreams. In the early stage of my malady the splendours of my dreams were indeed chiefly architectural; and I beheld such pomp of cities and palaces as was never yet beheld by the waking eye unless in the clouds."

A lot can be taken from this passage as De Quincy never actually saw the plates himself they were described to him and he could instantly visualize the unseen works and recognize in them the dark recesses of his own opium dreams. There is also a significant feature which has intruded into the account and can not be verified by an inspection of the actual plates. De Quincy describes multiple replications of Piranesi within each plate as a wandering figure. The artist imprisoned in his own nightmare dungeons.
I think De Quincy's dreams he had while visualising the plates are quite accurate, from all that I have read about Piransi it seems like he was quite an unhappy person having failed at achieving his dream of becoming an architect and sold his etchings he did as souvenirs. I think that he felt trapped and his etchings of the prisons is a representation of his time in Rome and a projection of how he felt. The elaborate design of an enormous prison that seems to be a city within itself, and has no escape.

Edgar Allen Poe "The Pit and the Pendulum"

It's quite easy to see how Edgar took influence from Piranesi's series of Prisons for this particular piece of work. The story revolves around a narrator who has been sentenced to death. Upon hearing his sentence he passes out and when he wakes up he's in complete darkness. He gets up and walks a few steps where he stumbles and blacks out again. When he wakes up he finds that although he fell on solid ground his head is over a ledge and he summarises that there must be a pit in the middle of his cell. After falling asleep and waking up again the room is dimly lit and that he is now strapped to a board, when he looks up, he notices that the figure of Time has been painted on the ceiling. Time, however, has been made into a machine, specifically a pendulum, which appears to be swinging back and forth. He looks away from the ceiling, though, when he notices rats coming out of the pit and swarming around his food. When he returns his focus to the ceiling, he discovers that the pendulum is constructed like a scythe and is making a razor-sharp crescent in its descent toward him. The pendulum is moving incredibly slowly with a trajectory right over his heart. When the pendulum nears him he has an idea, he rubs the food onto the straps of his restraints, which attracts the rats over and they chew through, setting him free. When he gets up, the pendulum retracts to the ceiling, and he concludes that people must be watching his every move. The walls of the prison then heat up and begin moving in toward the pit. The narrator realizes that the enclosing walls will force him into the pit, an escape that will also mean his death. When there remains not even an inch foothold for the narrator, the walls suddenly retract and cool down. In his fear, however, the narrator has begun to faint into the pit. To his great surprise, though, a mysterious person latches onto him and prevents his fall.

The following images is a recreation of one of Piranesi's Prison etchings by Joseph Mallord William Turner.  Turner copied this view of an imaginary prison interior from an etching Piranesi. Like other scenes from Piranesi's celebrated Carceri d'invenzione, this image (Dark Prison with a Courtyard for the Punishment of Criminals) presents a cavernous space crisscrossed by labyrinthine walkways and populated by diminutive figures. Turner made this drawing at the beginning of his career, presumably at the evening "Academy" of Dr. Thomas Monro (1759–1833), a pioneering psychologist who welcomed artists to his home to copy or color works in his collection. 

Dark Prison ("Carcere Oscura"), after Piranesi

The original etching done by Piranesi is almost exactly the same as the one by Turner except Turner lightened it up added colour and by doing so I believe took away some of the foreboding and trapped feeling that Piranesi's original etching gives.

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