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Piranesi (Anglais) Relié – 12 octobre 2011
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I went to the library to compare the $300-400 Wilton-Ely version recommended in the previous review. I must say I was expecting a lot more when considering the enormous price tag. In general, I would say all the images are similarly sized in both editions and the reproduction quality seemed very close if not the same. The Wilton-Ely has nice book cloth and the paper is nicer, yes, but the quality of the images struck me largely as the same. Each image is centered on its own sheet as well in the Wilton-Ely, hence it is has more pages. The previous review leads one to believe the more expensive version to have larger reproductions and more detail which I would say is not the case at all.
This Taschen edition does has a chemical odor that is so common in contemporary publications, that's true.
In light of the comparison, I am completely happy with this edition and think it is a remarkable value. In fact, I can't believe it is this inexpensive. It is not fair to compare a $40 edition with a $400 'fine' edition when the size of images and scope of content is so equivalent. I highly recommend (as an academic and designer).
This is a hardcover two-book-set that comes in a slipcase that holds the two volumes together. It is printed on very high-quality paper, and it features ALL of the sketch works of Piranesi... (not just selected works on a particular theme as most Piranesi books offer)... which is why this set is eight hundred (800) pages long. This is a magnificent, breathtaking compendium of the life work of Piranesi.
In addition to the fantasy-world drawings, in which the artist imagines buildings with impossibly-large arches and columns and complications upon complications that would undoubted cost hundreds of millions of dollars to actually attempt to build... he also did some very impressive detailed sketches of real-work ancient Greek and Roman architecture, such as The Colosseum, The Parthenon, etc. He also did a few sketches of people and individual architectural elements such as a single corbel or column or other such device.
It is however, his Romanesque fantasy-building sketches that would give any engineer (or city planner or accountant) a heart attack, that are the most enjoyable feast for the eyes and the mind. His imagined multi-level dungeon / prison sketches are also quite compelling. Whether as an addition to your art or architecture library, or as a jaw-dropping coffee table book set... you are sure to get lost for hours in the strange and intriguing world of Piranesi.
As a final note... the only other "Complete Works of Piranesi" is a slightly larger format "fine paper" edition that costs close to $400... and this one is a very tiny fraction of that cost. You will never regret adding this marvelous two-volume books set to your home library.
I just went to the used bookstore and saw the Wilton-Ely edition, which sells here for $300. The plates are no better, and in fact blurrier
and darker than the Ficacci! Therefore this must be THE definitive volume of Piranesi plates!
I purchased this based on the reviewer who claimed to have compared this with the much more expensive Wilton-Ely edition ($300) who said he could barely tell the difference between the plates. Since I had a small Taschen book, and did not like how the illustrations seem to "wash out" or how the engraved lines became all darkened and mashed together, I ordered the $40 version based upon the reviewer's word. When I received the book, however, the plates were absolutely NO BETTER than the small Taschen version; they are just blown up. So be warned: you will NOT be getting higher quality photos of the engravings/etchings. The same washout/blurring is to be seen in the larger (not so much larger either, btw) plates in this more expensive volume. The problem is, the etchings were PHOTOGRAPHED with a low-quality camera, and therefore were not able to get all the detail, no matter how big they are blown up. I have no idea what the Wilton-Ely version looks like, but my guess is they are not simply photographic plates, but graphically reproduced engravings/etchings, where ALL the engraved lines show, which explains the hefty pricetag. But I could be wrong.
However, since the plates ARE larger, you don't need a glass to see them, and the 2-volume set does include all Piranesi's etchings, so for this I'm giving 3 stars. Oh, yes there is a very strong odor reminiscent of oil-based paint; imagine you're looking at this book while in a room full of painters work with solvents! This odor is not likely to dissipate. Still, a very handsome set and a bargain, really, at $40.
He is likely most famous for his 'Carceri d'invenzione', a sixteen print group depicting imaginary, sometimes slightly fantastic prisons. Justice and Law were still firmly anchored to Catholic dogma in the 1700's, and the penitentiaries were not concerned with rehabilitating criminals; instead they smaller versions of purgatory and hell. The pain one suffered on the rack was nothing compared to Satan's infernal machinations; but for a man still capable of redemption, torture was a warning, a taste of the eternal pain to come. In that spirit, Piranesi's 'Imaginary Prisons' can be seen as dreamlike, proto-surrealist imagery that captures the black essence of the 18th century prisons and dungeons.
Rome was his inspiration. It is his series of engravings on Roman architectural art, perfectly scaled and minutely detailed, that was perhaps his most important work, as well as his Roman vedute, or views. His drawings of temple ruins, sagging arches and broken edifices captured the sad, beautiful evidence of Rome's former glory to perfection in 'Le Antichità Romane de' tempo della prima Repubblica e dei primi imperatori' ("Roman Antiquities of the Time of the First Republic and the First Emperors") -- which is reprinted in its entirety. Piranesi spent years documenting Rome as it was in his lifetime; crumbling, collapsed, half-shattered and grown-over. Thousand-year-old ghosts still seem to inhabit this dead and broken Rome.
Beyond these unique projects, his gifts as an architectural designer are demonstrated in the hundreds of plates he executed of chimneypieces and vases, etc. If that doesn't sound too interesting, I have to concur. But when Piranesi was set loose on anything, it became a grand and daring experiment. Editor Luigi Ficacci provides an illuminating biography with historical context, and because this is Taschen, it's provided three times over... in different languages. I wish Taschen would just publish separate English, German, and French editions separately, but it's something they do to cut down on costs, and for the price, it's a decent compromise. Each volume is about 10.25"w x 12.25"h, and together are a total of 800 pages. Instead of the thick, glossy art-book pages everyone loves, the paper-stock is a medium matte-finish, light-weight but acid-free. It works quite well for this release, however, since it's reproducing monochromatic and black and white artwork. Highly recommended.
My main complaints are that the quality of the paper is quite low, the printing is not that great( the books also smell terribly of chemicals ), and for a subject such as this, exquisitely detailed engravings by an undisputed Master, most are washed out.
The copy I have that I review poorly here is getting donated to the local library.
Finally, I will say again, I hate writing a poor review. But, I'll counter it by saying that many of the Taschen XL series are wonderful, quality books well worth the price here at Amazon.
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