Art: Palaces of the Mind

No artist ever possessed a city more ravenously than Giovanni Battista Piranesi did Rome. Generations of builders, from the anonymous creators of the Forum to Michelangelo and Bernini, set down that tawny palimpsest on the Tiber. It was left to a failed 18th century architect, who built one long-ignored church on the Aventine, to give the city its definitive shape: the word Piranesian, as a synonym for phantasmagoric grandeur, has entered the language of art. This month, a splendid exhibition of Piranesi's studies and engravings opened at Columbia University in Manhattan; its centerpiece...

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