Francesco Piranesi was born in Rome, the eldest son of Giovanni Battista Piranesi and his wife, Angela Pasquini. He was educated in printmaking by his father, along with his older sister Laura (1755–1785), also a noted printmaker at the time of his untimely death. He both engraved his own works of art and assisted his father's work in 1775. He then began to study with other experts: engraving with Giovanni Volpato, landscape painting under the German Jacob Philipp Hackert and his brother Georg and architecture under Pierre-Adrien Pâris.
Piranesi accompanied his father on two trips to the ancient Roman ruins of Paestum, Pompei and Ercolano, first in 1770 and then again in 1778. In this he was part of a group of engravers who collaborated with Benedetto Mori and the architect Augusto Rosa, considered the inventor of felloplastica, the art of building models of ancient monuments in cork. Giovanni Battista created a series of preparatory drawings on Paestum, which were completed by Francesco. Upon his father's death, shortly after the second voyage, Francesco acquired his father's publishing house and was responsible for printing most subsequent editions of his prints.
Piranesi collaborated with French artist Louis Jean Desprez on a series of views of Naples, Pompeii, and Rome, which were advertised in 1783 as colored drawings and sold at Piranesi's store in Rome. Although the 1783 ad promised 48 views, the series was not completed until Desprez left Rome to enter the service of King Gustav III of Sweden. In the following years, Piranesi built his reputation mainly on his antique statuary engravings.
After the assassination of Gustav III in 1792, Piranesi was employed by Baron Gustaf Adolf Reuterholm, the head of the regent council that ruled Sweden during the minority of Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden. Reuterholm instructed Piranesi to spy on the late king's favorite, Gustaf Mauritz Armfelt, who had been one of the men the king had appointed to the regent council in his will, but whom Reuterholm had deposed. Piranesi managed to steal the Armfelt letters he had stored at the British Embassy in Florence before starting his work as a foreign ambassador to the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies. These letters were the main evidence used against Armfelt when he was tried in absentia for treason and sentenced to death, a sentence he however managed to avoid by fleeing to Russia.
The occupation of the Italian peninsula in 1798 by the French revolutionary army led to the establishment of the short-lived Roman republic. Piranesi quickly gained the admiration of French officials ruling the republic, becoming a government official. When the republic fell the following year, with his younger brother Pietro, he moved to Paris where he soon won the admiration of Talleyrand. They opened a new branch of the family business there, called Piranesi Frères, which decorated a line of terracotta vases made in imitation of ancient Etruscan works by Joseph Bonaparte.
In 1807 Pietro Piranesi sold his share of the business and returned to Rome. Francesco had a hard time after that. Emperor Napoleon came to his aid by issuing an imperial decree granting the sum of 300,000 French francs, on condition that Piranesi devote himself solely to his work of engraving, then considered to be the best in Europe. However, he died unexpectedly in Paris before he could fulfill his contract.
Rumor has it that he died of syphilis. This disease drove him mad and he made a series of fantastic paintings. This information came from an art appraiser at Michaan's auction in Alameda, California. [Citation needed]
In 1839, the surviving collection of his prints was purchased by the Calcografia Camerale, founded by Pope Gregory XVI, and brought to Rome. This institution is now the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica.
Work on paper
Gilded wood frame with glass pane
66 x 86 x 1,5 cm