This artfully embellished section is one of twenty-three drawings at Avery
that present Piranesi's ideas for the redesign of San Giovanni in Laterano at
Rome. Widely acclaimed for their beauty and historical importance, they are
justly regarded as the crowning glory of Avery Library's considerable Piranesi
Avery began collecting the work of the great Venetian-born printmaker
Piranesi soon after its founding, acquiring an almost complete set of the Rome
printing of his Opere in 1892. Through the years, other notable materials
were added: a first state of the Antichità Romane (1756); a rare copy of
the Lettere di Giustificazione (1767); the Prima parte di
architetture (1743), Piranesi's first printed work; and a manuscript account
book recording construction costs for Piranesi's redesign of the church of Santa
Maria del Priorato in Rome (1764-1767).
In 1970, through the generosity of Dr. and Mrs. Arthur M. Sackler, Avery
acquired a collection of most of Piranesi's major works in their early states up
to 1764. And in 1971, once again through the Sacklers' beneficence, Avery
acquired twenty-three of the twenty-five known large drawings for the redesign
of the Lateran Basilica, given in memory of Rudolf Wittkower, chairman of
Columbia's Art History and Archaeology Department from 1956 to 1969.
Jointly executed by Piranesi and his assistants, these drawings propose
various architectural solutions for rites in the church space, sympathetic with
the prior remodeling by Francesco Borromini (1599-1667). They were commissioned
by Pope Clement XIII and presented to his nephew Cardinal G. B. Rezzonico;
however, none of the six schemes was ever realized. They remain a magnificent
record of Piranesi's second and final attempt to work as an architect.