Past Exhibitions

Giovanni Battista Piranesi: Architecture and the Spaces of the Imagination

November 1, 2008 – February 15, 2009



In his stunning series of prints called Imaginary Prisons, 18th-century Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi created haunting, expressive, and entirely fantastical architectural scenes.  

The large-scale etchings and engravings—with their cavernous, gloomy chambers and labyrinthine corridors and staircases filled with unreal machines, enormous chains, and contorted prisoners—allow for an investigation of the line between architectural observation and the imagination. Prints from Piranesi’s series Views of Rome likewise demonstrate his tremendous skill at rendering perspective and creating complex compositional environments. Even in views of known locations in Rome, Piranesi frequently elaborated, exaggerated, and added imaginary devices or dramatic figural vignettes. Additional works by Piranesi and by his contemporaries and followers reveal the broad context of his career and his legacy.  

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A selection of dramatic photographs by Clyde Hare of Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County Courthouse, designed by renowned architect Henry Hobson Richardson, offer a striking parallel to Piranesi’s fantastic designs. It is just one local example of Piranesi’s continued relevance to a wide range of artists and practicing architects through the generations. 

Exhibition Credits

General support for the museum’s exhibition program is provided by The Heinz Endowments, the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, and Allegheny Regional Asset District. 

Installation Views