Piranesi, Film and MoMA

Giovanni Battista Piranesi



Piranesi’s influence has been far-reaching, and across a variety of media. For example…  

In 1928, a young American art historian, Alfred Barr, visited the studio of the Soviet filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein in Moscow.  

While he was there, Barr got to watch 4 reels of Eisenstein's upcoming film: October: Ten days that shook the world 

The film tells the dramatic days of the Russian revolution 10 years earlier, and the Bolsheviks’ seizure of power.  

In October, Eisenstein used a technique he became known for, montage.  

He filmed one of the actors going up the same flight of stairs several times in a row and then edited the scenes together.  

In the now-famous staircase scene, Eisenstein says that Piranesi’s Carceri was an inspiration.  

(Slight pause) 

Eisenstein's montage inspired Barr in the work on the exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1936.  

The exhibition mapped the directions of modern art, but also largely helped to highlight them through Barr's famous chart of modern art. 

Of the 200 artists exhibited, Barr included only one born in the 18th century, Giovanni Battista Piranesi… 

Barr defined Carceri as "proto-cubist" and hung one copy of Carceri No. 7, the so-called "Suspension Bridge", in the same room as Pablo Picasso, George Braque and Robert Delaunay. 

Both Delaunay's Eiffel Tower and Piranesi's Staircase are unstable structures. It is also possible to see how the lines of Delaunay and the rope work of Piranesi constitute similar geometries and how contrasting light and dark fields form patterns. 

(Slight pause) 

After the ground-breaking exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1936, artists looked at Piranesi with new eyes.