The pioneering series: Piranesi’s Carceri
This chapter focuses on G. B. Piranesi’s Carceri series, consisting of the first edition dating to 1750 and the second edition dating to 1761. This, I consider, is one of the pioneering, if not the first, examples of an architectural series that is also fully contained within the unbuildable. This double series captures nearly all of the issues at stake examined in this book, bringing them together in a very precise manner. Even more renown than previous examples, Piranesi is one of the recognised and most studied architects, with his Carceri in particular, among the most cited works of architecture. Usually, however, the focus tends to be on a single plate, largely ignoring the fact that this project consists of a series, unbuildable and perspective. The first Carceri was so successful that it was doubled by the creation of the second edition. Working in a series involves a repetitive delay of the pressure an artist feels to produce the ultimate piece of work: one could work on several pieces in parallel, according to a type of variation on a theme, and produce several pieces as multiple conclusions. Naturally, even though the focus does not stay for long on any one of the drawings produced, several more exquisite pieces still can and should be judged in their own right. However, as with Piranesi,1 the often overlooked quality of this work could be not so much in any one of the individual pieces but in their overall seriality, in the number of likely combinations. Hence, any one drawing should not be interpreted as a plan for a city, for example, but each drawing of a series should be observed as an accurate proposition, limited to one, perhaps infinitely small point in time. For example, Manfredo Tafuri obsessively singled out Piranesi’s Great Wheel in The Sphere and the Labyrinth.2 It seems inadequate to judge Piranesi or any other architect based on a single drawing.