Inside the Milberg Gallery: Exhibition spotlight “Lettere di giustificazione scritte a milord Charlemont e à di lui agenti di Roma dal signor Piranesi”

The following is the fifth 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, the exhibition explores the work of Giovanni Battista Piranesi and how the book became the centerpiece of his artistic production.

Lettere dedicatees: Piranesi addressed the recipients by inscribing their names at the printer’s center.

Piranesi’s Lettere di giustificazione scritte a milord Charlemont e à di lui agenti di Roma dal signor Piranesi is an angry screed, a calculated publicity ploy, and a meditation on the power of the printed word. Above all, the short pamphlet demonstrates how the author’s deep concern for the reception and distribution of his books affected the work that he made. In the 1750s, when Piranesi was preparing the plates and texts that would become his four-volume Antichita Romane, he sought the support of a patron to help finance the work. An Irishman named James Caulfield, Earl of Charlemont, pledged his support for the book.

“A meditation on the power of the printed word”

After Piranesi’s project swelled well beyond its original scope, however, Charlemont never delivered the promised funds. Piranesi made his anger known. He published a highly-edited version of correspondence he had exchanged with Charlemont’s agents as the Lettere di giustificazione in 1757, accusing them and their boss of deceitful dealings. Piranesi sent copies to friends, clients, and associates, with hand-written inscriptions noting each intended recipient. By distributing the small book personally, Piranesi used his book to stoke controversy and stir up future business.

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 November 11, 2021 

Media Contact: Barbara Valenza, Director of Library Communications