'Via Appia Imaginaria', frontispiece for the second book of the 'Veduti di Roma', 1756
Artist: Giovanni Battista Piranesi
© Victoria and Albert Museum. Museum number E.4036-1908
Giovanni Battista Piranesi captured an imaginary Rome based on real architectural elements assembled in fantastical ways. This is Piranesi's vision of the Via Appia, an important Roman road stretching across southern Italy and joining Rome with the Adriatic coast. Just outside the city's ancient walls the road is lined with tombs, which the artist has rendered as elaborate architectural mountains.
Piranesi created his images by etching with a sharp stylus on a waxed copper plate. After using the stylus to draw an image, the copper plate was set in an acid bath where the lines that Piranesi had drawn would be etched away. This method gives his prints a hand-drawn look. The prints were produced in large quantities and sold to tourists in Rome. This mass distribution resulted in a long fascination among architects around Europe with the power of built space, which Piranesi depicts so powerfully.