The Carceri Prints

Giovanni Battista Piranesi

Transcription

Narrator:
We are now standing in the first room of the exhibition ‘Piranesi and the Modern’. The focus of this part of the exhibition is Piranesi’s masterpiece, the Carceri prints. 

Victor Plahte Schudi:
Here we see the most famous series out of all of Piranesi’s one thousand prints, his Carceri d’invenzione, or Imaginary Prisons of 1761.

Narrator:
You are listening to Victor Plahte Tschudi, a professor at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design. 

Victor Plahte Schudi:
Here we see prisoners lashed to torture devices. We see chains and ropes. We see metal gratings, and we see huge iron projectiles. Prisons and prisoners are the recurring theme. But perhaps what is even more terrifying is that other people in the same prints are walking around chatting, standing looking at the views, as though nothing is amiss. So it’s not just the architecture that doesn’t make sense, there’s also a human community that’s fallen apart.

Narrator:
The imagery of the Italian architect and printmaker Piranesi has prompted writers, philosophers and psychologists to ask about the nature of the underworld we see here. Did the images emerge from feverish hallucinations? Were they intended as criticism of the brutality of the prison system? Or do the dangling drawbridges and endless halls represent the human psyche? 

Victor Plahte Schudi:
But the thing that’s most fascinating about these prints is Piranesi’s treatment of space. In a way it looks as though it never ends. There are perspectives that branch endlessly into the background. There are staircases that disappear upwards into nothingness. There are dizzying, vertiginous abysses in the foreground. So what is this world that Piranesi shows us in this series? That’s the question that has preoccupied posterity. 
 
Narrator:
On the other side of the room, you can see how Piranesi has inspired us in more recent times. In 1936, one of his prints was taken out of oblivion and displayed in an exhibition about Cubism and abstract art at MOMA in New York. Piranesi’s prints were now being seen within a modern context. And later his imagery continued to inspire game developers and also filmmakers, as you can see here in a scene from "The Third Man".

Victor Plahte Schudi:
In these iconic moments near the end of the movie, the anti-hero is trapped in the sewers beneath Vienna as he attempts to flee from the police. And every single image, every single shot could have been taken straight from these Carceri prints. It’s as though the whole series of prints has been converted into film.