In May 1756 Giovanni Piranesi published Le Antichita Romane in four large folio volumes, each beginning with a double-page dedication to Irish aristocrat James Caulfeild, Viscount Charlemont (he was to be created Earl in 1763). Piranesi, who had met Charlemont when the young gentleman was in Rome a few years earlier, evidently had high hopes for his future patron. When, for complex reasons, these were not realized, he published another work – a pamphlet that revealed his disappointments – and produced a new edition of Antichita with earlier dedications removed. Similar to Dr. Johnson’s almost contemporaneous correspondence with Lord Chesterfield A dictionary of the English languagethe resulting controversy provided ample entertainment for civilized society.
In contemporary Ireland, Lord Charlemont’s contradictory association with Piranesi is currently being remembered through the exhibition ‘For the Love of the Master’, which will inspire 25 contemporary artists to respond to this example. To mark Piranesi’s 300th birthday, the show was originally scheduled to open in 2020, but a pandemic got in the way, so this is a belated but welcome celebration.
With a copy of the original Antichita, a generous loan from this little-known treasure house, the Armagh Robinson Library, the exhibition is split between two locations. A neoclassical gem in Marino on the outskirts of Dublin, the Casino was commissioned by Lord Charlemont from Sir William Chambers in 1757. It provides a clean link to Piranesi’s alleged patron and should therefore be the perfect place for such an exhibition. The fact that the contributions sometimes have difficulties is less due to the makers than to the tough competition from architecture, which repeatedly overwhelms artistic invaders.
Agnes Jones’ steel drawings thrive best in the basement because the rooms here are simple, square boxes that provide an understated backdrop. On an equal footing, Grégoire Dupond’s 2010 animated film, derived from Piranesis Carceri d’invenzionewould benefit from being shown on a larger screen – maybe even an entire wall – to create the impact it had elsewhere.
Upstairs, the casino’s elegantly ornate interiors provide unfair competition for the work, particularly Petter Rhodiner’s sugary cast gimmicks (2020) in the entrance hall and on the top floor Anouk Mercier’s large format print on fabric, Mood. Jewelery by Mark Newman and Evert Nijland and Sue Williams A’Court’s imaginary landscape drawing on canvas all share a certain Rococo sensibility and thus achieve a consistency with their surroundings.
The circumstances are different at the second venue, a former stable building now called the Coach House Gallery in Dublin Castle. Behind a 19th-century crenellated wall, the building has been converted into a series of large, open spaces that can be used for a variety of purposes. On this occasion, their lack of decoration affords the work ample opportunity for articulation. Ceramics predominate, the best of them evoking the spirit of Piranesi, like Kate O’Kelly’s white porcelain pieces suggesting fragments of abandoned classical architecture, and Zoë Hillyard’s intentionally broken pieces The #italy vases, Their surviving surfaces are covered with black and white images taken from Italian holiday selfies. Matt Davis’ bone china urns and Jo Taylor’s bone china urns also piled up Candelabra Construct I–IX manages to invade the world of Piranesi without being enslaved to it.
The clearest tribute is paid by Emily Allchurch, whose three images, two of them prints, one a slide on an LED lightbox, cleverly adapt some of Piranesi’s most famous prints to reflect contemporary Britain. Allchurch has long toyed with Old Master images; It’s been 15 years since she produced her first works in the Urban chiaroscuro Series inspired by Carceri d’invenzione. The current exhibition includes Sic Transit Gloria Mundi (2016), a reworking of Piranesi’s fantastic view of tombs along the Appian Way in Rome. One hopes that this honor will assuage Piranesi’s wounded pride and give him the assurance that his genius is fully appreciated in Ireland today.
For the Love of the Master: 25 Artists Fascinated by Piranesi is located in the Coach House at Dublin Castle and the Casino at MarinoDublin, until September 18th.