New Findings in Piranesi's "Antiquities of Rome": Urban Archaeologies in John Soane and Thomas De Quincey
"Crude Hints Towards an History of My House" was written in 1812 by the London architect John Sloane. The text provides an unexpected setting for a perplexing narrative: the house in progress is envisaged as if in ruins, and commented upon by latter day visitors. The decrepit abode looks mysterious, and the visitors formulate hypotheses regarding its origins and function according to the clues provided. The stairs described in "Crude Hints" are very similar to those created by Giovanni Battista Piranesi in his work "Carceri d’Invenzione", a very popular work among English architects, antiquarians and writers of the time. Even Thomas De Quincey, in his "Confessions of an Opium Eater", features those same stairs and uses them to explain the experience of his 'chiefly architectural' opium dreams. In this essay, the relationship between the plates of prisons by Piranesi and the English culture and literature are examined. In the urban labyrinth of London, always in decadence, demolition and reconstruction, the shaping form, both architectural and textual, merges with dismemberment, ruin and fragmentariness. This, perhaps, is the reason for the success and influence of Piranesi’s engravings, and the ‘modern proposal’ whereby the early 19th-century metropolis tries to clothe in words, images and form its own cultural anxieties, urban and imperial.
Prospero. Rivista di culture anglo-germaniche
EUT Edizioni Università di Trieste
Francesca Cuojati "New Findings in Piranesi's "Antiquities of Rome": Urban Archaeologies in John Soane and Thomas De Quincey", in: Prospero, X (2003), pp. 79-92