Inside the Milberg Gallery: Forms and Formats

Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–1778), Dimostrazioni dell’Emissario del Lago Albano in Descrizione e disegno dell’Emissario del Lago Albano, tav. III. Rome, 1762, Rare Books, Department of Special Collections, Princeton University Library

The following is the third in a series of inside looks at the current exhibition in Princeton University Library’s Ellen and Leonard Milberg Gallery at Firestone Library - "Piranesi on the Page."

Curated by Heather Hyde Minor, Professor of Art History at University of Notre Dame, and Carolyn Yerkes, Associate Professor of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University, “Piranesi on the Page” explores the work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi and how the book became the centerpiece of his artistic production.

Piranesi loved letterforms, and he made images of words that emphasized their design and physical manufacture. Inscriptions cut into stone, markings on papyrus, handwritten letters, metal typefaces, hieroglyphics on obelisks: these are just some of the forms of incised, written, printed, cast, carved, and sculpted words that Piranesi incorporated into his prints. Exploring how letters are crafted made him think closely about historical sources as material sources. In turn, he considered how books conjoin text and image.

“Piranesi constantly expanded the scope of what he could convey within a single enormous page.”

When he made those combinations, Piranesi often created visual layers. Throughout his career, map-making was one method he pursued to merge historical information about ancient and modern Rome together with his own speculations. His experimental maps test the physical limits of the book format, as Piranesi constantly expanded the scope of what he could convey within a single enormous page. 

Discover more about "Piranesi on the Page" through PUL's online exhibition.

The exhibition will run from October 8 through December 5, 2021. It is open daily noon to 6 p.m. Reservations are no longer required for the public. All visitors must be fully vaccinated and wear face coverings.

Published October 28, 2021 

Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications