Round the World travelers may act like they've stumbled on an original idea, but (and I hate to break it to them) what they're doing is sooo 18th century. Back in the day, British aristocrats set out on a tour of the sights of Europe and became part of the time honored tradition, the Grand Tour. What did tourists want to take home with them? Souvenirs and pictures of their travels, obviously. In Rome, these pictures were called vedute and the godfather of the vedute was Piranesi.
Long before a world of Photoshop and Instagram, Piranesi was amping up his views of Rome, often showing a view of Rome that did not actually exist. Exaggerating angles and size, he often made his subject matter appear larger than life. He also used a stage design technique, showing his subjects from multiple angles, that gives the feeling of actually standing in front of the work of architecture.
In 1976, artist Herschel Levit attempted to recreate Piranesi’s most famous views with photography in his book Views of Rome, Then and Now. Well 1976 isn’t quite now anymore and I thought it might be an interesting exercise to revisit the idea and compare some of Piranesi’s views with their modern-day counterpart, the Google street view.
As you can see, it's not always easy to recreate the grandeur of Piranesi's Rome (especially with street signs in the way.) What I find fascinating, however, is that even hundreds of years later, the vistas, for the most part, are still intact. If you'd like to try your hand at recreating Piranesi's subjects for yourself, check out the map below.
View Rome, Then and Now in a larger map
Piranesi's prints are a staple to most major art museum collections. While not always on display, keep an eye out for them in print and drawing exhibitions throughout the world.
Ficacci, Luigi. Giovanni Battista Piranesi: The Complete Etchings, New York: Taschen, 2000. (Find at your on Amazon.)