In 1777, the great Italian draftsman and printmaker Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778) visited the haunting and majestic archaeological site of Paestum on the Gulf of Salerno, about 60 miles south of Naples. A Greek colony dating to circa 600 B.C., Paestum had long been abandoned when it was rediscovered in the eighteenth century. Antiquarians eagerly studied the site, visiting its three ancient Doric temples, then identified as the Basilica, the Temple of Neptune, and the Temple of Ceres. The Basilica and the Temple of Neptune are among the best-preserved early Greek temples. Piranesi immediately began a set of monumental drawings that combined an antiquarian’s interest in the buildings with an appreciation for the picturesque qualities of the ruins. The drawings were preparatory for a set of prints, but unfortunately, the artist died in 1778 before completing the project. The drawings—the last of Piranesi’s illustrious career—were ultimately completed by his son, Francesco, and published posthumously the same year. Beginning January 23, the Morgan Library & Museum will exhibit fifteen of the seventeen surviving Paestum drawings for the first time ever in the United States. The works are on loan from Sir John Soane’s Museum in London, where they recently underwent restoration. Piranesi and the Temples of Paestum: Drawings from Sir John Soane’s Museum will remain on view through May 17.
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