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Francesco Piranesi & Louis-Jean Desprez

1756 Rom – 1810 Paris & 1743 Auxerre – 1804 Stockholm

The Isis Temple in Pompeii; The Tomb of the Mamia in Pompeii; The City Gate of Pompeii. Three etchings by F. Piranesi after designs by L.-J. Desprez, each measuring c. 52.3 x 71.7 cm. Circa 1788–1789. Wollin 7–9 II.

In July 1781, Louis-Jean Desprez and Francesco Piranesi issued a prospectus in which they announced the publication of a sequence of Italian views in the form of  “coloured drawings” (dessins coloriés). In reality, however, they were referring to a series of large-format outline etchings by Francesco Piranesi after designs by his older colleague Louis-Jean Desprez, which were carefully and individually coloured by the latter with water colour and gouache. The original plan was for 48 sheets with vedute from the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies and the city of Rome, but in the end only ten views were produced.

Of the two artists involved Francesco Piranesi indisputably enjoyed the greater renown on account of his family background and his contacts with Rome’s artistic community. As heir and successor to his father Giovanni Battista, who had died in 1778, he kept up the studio and issued new editions of his famous graphic cycles. The departure of his colleague Louis-Jean Desprez, who had been appointed stage designer at Stockholm’s Royal Theatre by King Gustav III in 1784, may have prompted the business-minded Francesco Piranesi to thoroughly rework some of the original outline etchings a few years later with the aim to publish a second edition. By methodically reworking the prints, Piranesi transformed the outline etchings into pure etchings that strongly resemble the works of his father. Due to their archaelogical subject matter the three vedute from Pompeii form a set of their own on. The financial success of this second edition may have been slight, as the sheets are rare and were evidently printed in only small numbers. Indeed, following initial successes, Francesco Piranesi’s career was one of shifting fortunes. He sympathized with the French Revolution and was Commandant of the Republican National Guard in Rome. In this capacity he was involved in clashes with Neapolitan troops and had to flee Italy under somewhat hazardous circumstances in 1799. Piranesi settled with his brother Piero in Paris where he continued his publishing activities under difficult conditions. He died in poverty in 1810 after his last project, the founding of a terracotta factory, had failed for lack of funds.

Very fine, richly varied and clear impressions with full margins. All the sheets have an unobtrusive, flattened central fold. Wollin 9 with a small stain and slightly water-stained in the lower margin, otherwise in excellent condition.

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