Hidden Lights: Sir John Soane’s Piranesis

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, Pantheon te Rome, etching, 18 1/2 x 27 1/2 inches. Courtesy of the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam.

At 5:30 a.m. on 18 March 1778, John Soane (1753–1837) set off on a long journey to Italy. The two years he spent on the Grand Tour were to be the most formative of his career. Arriving first in Rome, Soane headed south to Naples, Pompeii and Paestum, and then north to Mantua, Parma, Vicenza, Padua and Venice among other places. For the young architect, as for many others before and after him, the experience of studying at first hand so many of the buildings he had previously known only from images and written accounts was a revelation. It was not simply the things that Soane saw that stayed with him, however, but also the people he met, among whom none was more influential than the architect-draughtsman Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720–78).

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