Piranesi and the Modern

The exhibition "Piranesi and the Modern" explores the importance of the 18th century artist and architect Giovanni Battista Piranesis (1720–1778) right through to the present.

  • 9 September 2022–8 January 2023
  • The National Museum

The exhibition also extends to the National Museum – Architecture's vault

The Italian artist Piranesi is best known for his etchings depicting Rome, fantastical buildings, vertiginous staircases, and crumbling ruins. His architectural visions helped to define ideas of modernity in various artistic disciplines in the 20th century and are still influential today.

Innovations such as abstraction in painting, montage in film, and strong contrasts in photography are all indebted to Piranesi’s art. They make him fundamentally modern, just as they make modernity “Piranesian”.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi, "The Lion Bas Reliefs", 1745/ 1760–1775
Photo: Nasjonalmuseet / Børre Høstland
Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang is an example of Piranesi's influence on the science fiction genre. Poster by Boris Bilinsky.

Especially significant are Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons (1761) and his map of the Field of Mars in Rome, Campo Marzio (1762). Artists, architects, filmmakers, and writers have found inspiration in Piranese’s labyrinthine passages and endless spaces, which seem to reach into both the outer world and our inner selves.

...the Prisons are remarkable as being the nearest eighteenth-century approach to abstract art

Aldous Huxley, Prisons, 1949

The exhibition shows the connections between Piranese’s etchings and photography, painting, architecture, and film from the early 20th century to the present. Piranesi is shown alongside works by Pablo Picasso, Robert Delaunay, Ragnhild Keyser, Alvin Coburn, Sergei Eisenstein, Le Corbusier, Rem Koolhaas, Julie Mehretu, and others.

Explore in 3d

This exhibition is in collaboration with The Oslo School of Architecture and Design (AHO)