Art: Architect for Dreams

Piranesi's monuments on paper are built to last

"I need to produce ideas on the grand scale, and I think that if someone asked me to design a new universe, I'd be mad enough to undertake it," wrote young Giovanni Battista Piranesi to a friend. Nobody asked him. In fact, nobody asked him to design any major building at all, though he always signed himself Architetto. Instead, he became known to his contemporaries as "the Rembrandt of Ruins."

Yet in his way, Piranesi did indeed design a universe. For in his etchings of the...

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