In 1650, Stefano della Bella was appointed teacher of drawing and composition to Cosimo III de’ Medici, son of the Grand Duke of Tuscany. This print shows the young boy in the gardens of the Villa Medici in Rome sketching the so-called Medici vase, a famous bell-shaped marble krater. The fragment of a marble frieze is propped against the large urn. Stefano della Bella (Italian, 1610–1664), “La vase de Médicis” (The Medici Vase), from the series Six grandes vues, don’t quatre de Rome et deux de la Campagne romaine (Six Large Views of Rome and the Countryside); etching, 1656. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection


Piranesi’s Skeletons belongs to a long tradition of the grotesque, a type of highly inventive imagery that received its name from the subterranean decorations discovered in the late 15th century in the so-called Golden Palace of Nero, Rome. Because the structure had been buried for many centuries and was literally underground, visitors perceived the spaces into which they descended as grottoes (hence the term grottesco, or grotesque). The print, which shows a phantasmagoric arrangement of ancient fragments, scrubby vegetation, and an animated skeleton propped on its side, gazing out at the viewer, associates the ruins of antiquity with a body that has been stripped of its flesh to reveal its bare bones. Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720–1778), “The Skeletons,” from the series Grotteschi; etching, ca. 1748. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection


Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720–1778), “Veduta dell’Arco di Costantino, e dell’ Anfiteatro Flavio detto il Coloseo” (View of the Arch of Constantine and the Flavian Amphitheater, called the Colosseum); etching, ca. 1760. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection


The process of interpreting and visualizing works of art and architecture that are defined by what they are missing has always involved a leap of the imagination. Although seemingly rigorously scientific, for example, the act of restoring ruins by envisioning how they once looked involves a degree of conjecture and fantasy. Reflecting on historical ruins and fragments, in short, encourages a mindset that is fanciful and inspires artists like Piranesi to produce works that foreground their creativity and powers of invention. Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720–1778), “Camera sepolcrale inventata e disegnata conforme al costume, e all'antica magnificenza degl'Imperatori Romani” (Imaginary Sepulcral Chamber Designed According to the Fashion and Ancient Magnficence of the Roman Emperors); etching, ca. 1750. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection


Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720–1778), “Ara antica sopra la quale si facevano anticamente i sagrifizi, con altre ruine all’intorno” (Ancient Altar on Which Sacrifices Were Performed in Antiquity, Surrounded by Other Ruins); etching, ca. 1750. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection


Beginning in the late 15th century, young artists were taught to draw from classical fragments and artifacts as part of their artistic training. Aspiring artists, it stood to reason, should learn to imitate and emulate the perfection embodied in the art of the ancients by reproducing examples of their work. The practice of making copies after classical works of art persisted in many art academies at least through the late 19th century. Piranesi studied both ancient texts and ancient ruins to accomplish many of his masterpieces. Here, the great engraver and architect seems to identify with the very subject he chose to depict imaginatively presenting himself to the viewer as a living, albeit fragmentary, classical sculpture. Giovanni Battista Piranesi (Italian, 1720–1778), “Jo. Bap. Piranesi Veneti architectus” (G. B. Piranesi, Architect of Venice [Self-portrait as a Classical Bust]), used as the frontispiece to Opere varie di architettura, prospettive, grotteschi, antichità (Various Works of Architecture, Perspective, Grotesques, and Antiquities); etching and engraving, 1750; NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collectio.


The Netherlandish artist Jan Both was in Rome around 1638 and returned to Utrecht around 1646. The print, which was no doubt executed after his return from Italy, shows a view of Tivoli, near Rome, with two cowherds and their cattle resting in front of the ruins of Hadrian’s Villa. The artist’s fluttery, energized line ably captures a sense of the heat and light associated with the southern landscape. Jan Both (Dutch, ca. 1618–1652), “Landscape with Ruins and Two Cows at the Waterside,” from the series Six Landscapes from the Environs of Rome; etching and engraving, 1645–50. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection


Described by the 16th-century biographer Giorgio Vasari (1511–1574) as Raphael’s official printmaker, Marcantonio Raimondi is regarded as one of the most influential reproductive engravers of the Italian Renaissance. Unlike many of Marcantonio’s engravings, this particular print does not reproduce any known painting by Raphael. While the preparatory drawing is lost, scholars have noted that Raphael relied on two ancient sarcophagi, one in the Villa Medici and one in the Villa Doria Pamphili in Rome, to develop his design. By synthesizing these two fragmented works, Raphael generated a single, unbroken composition. Marcantonio Raimondi (Italian, 1470 or 1482–1527 or 1534), after Raphael (Italian, 1483–1520), The Judgment of Paris; engraving, ca. 1516–18. NYPL, Wallach Division, Print Collection