Rome – Archbasilica of Saint John Lateran

by Giovanni Battista Piranesi


Date of first edition: 1748

Date of this edition: 1760-1778

Dimensions (without margins): 49,5 x 71,5 cm

Dimensions (including margins): 57,8 x 79,9 cm

Condition: Very good. Sharp copper engraving printed on strong paper. Wide margins.

Condition rating: A+

Verso: blank

From: Vedute di Roma

Item number:
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Giovanni Battista Piranesi was born in 1720 in Mogliano, Veneto. He studied engraving with Giuseppe Vasi in Rome. In his professional life he was active both as an engraver and an architect. His two main publications were Prima parte di Architettura e Prospettive (1743), followed in 1745 by Varie Vedute di Roma Antica e Moderna. He is these days most famous for his series of views of Rome.

He is most famous for his etchings of Rome, the Vedute. A number of these Views are notable for depicting human figures whose poverty, lameness, apparent drunkenness, and other visible flaws appear to echo the decay of the ruins. This is consistent with a familiar trope of Renaissance literature, in which the ruins of Rome are lamented as a metaphor for the imperfection and transience of human existence.

The basilica

The Cathedral of the Most Holy Savior and of Saints John the Baptist and John the Evangelist in the Lateran (Italian: Santissimo Salvatore e Santi Giovanni Battista ed Evangelista in Laterano), also known as the Papal Archbasilica of Saint John [in] Lateran, Saint John Lateran, or the Lateran Basilica, is the cathedral church of the Diocese of Romein the city of Rome and serves as the seat of the bishop of Rome, the pope.

While situated in the City of Rome, the archbasilica lies outside of Vatican City proper, which is located approximately 4 km to its northwest. Nevertheless, as properties of the Holy See, the archbasilica and its adjoining edifices enjoy an extraterritorial status from Italy pursuant to the terms of the Lateran Treat of 1929.

Originally founded in 324, the church is the oldest and highest ranking of the four papal major basilicas, holding the unique title of “archbasilica”. It is the oldest public church in the city of Rome, and the oldest basilica of the Western world. It houses the cathedra of the Roman bishop,[ and has the title of ecumenical mother church of the Roman Catholic faith. The building deteriorated during the Middle Ages and was badly damaged by two fires in the 14th century. It was rebuilt in the late 16th century during the reign of Pope Sixtus V. The new structure’s interior was renovated in the late 17th century, and its façade was completed in 1735 under Pope Clement XII.

The large Latin inscription on the façade reads: Clemens XII Pont Max Anno V Christo Salvatori In Hon SS Ioan Bapt et Evang. This abbreviated inscription translates as: “Pope Clement XII, in the fifth year [of his Pontificate, dedicated this building] to Christ the Savior, in honor of Saints John the Baptist and [John] the Evangelist”.

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This etching

This is a superb copy in the first French edition, on laid paper with large ‘crowned lily’ watermark, with good margins, in good condition, only with redness due to widespread but slight foxing (see photos).
At the bottom, title within a cartouche “architettura di Alessandro Gallilei”, legend and “V. 24 cav. Gio. Batta. Piranesi F.”

Exterior of the monumental basilica of S. Giovanni in Laterano with the square in front, a religious procession, figures and carriages”. From volume I of the series “Vedute di Roma”, published since 1748.
Wilton-Ely, 255; Hind, 122; Focillon, 724.

Full title: Veduta della Facciata della Basilica di S. Giovanni in Laterano

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