Piranesis Lost Words

Hardback or cased
Heather Hyde Minor
Published 08 Oct 2015
List Price £56.95



“In the mid-twentieth century Piranesi may have been seized upon by architects and theorists as a “bad-boy Modernist” with a coherent theoretical standpoint and vision of the city. Now, in the early twenty-first century, Heather Hyde Minor has traced the development of Piranesi’s thinking across his major writings and shown that we might better consider his end position to be that of a postmodernist, embracing the past as a collection of rich fragments, to be taken by us and made of what we will.”

—Frank Salmon, Times Literary Supplement

“A fascinating examination of one of the most original artists of the 18th century. . . . Illustrated with 130 plates of excellent quality, the book itself is a visual feast and an engaging read. By examining Piranesi’s print and book composition, manufacture, publication, promotion, competition, and consumption, Minor also offers a richly textured portrayal of European Enlightenment culture.”


“Compelling and beautifully written. . . . Thanks to Minor’s stimulating publication, Piranesi’s fame as an author is restored, albeit in terms of a highly complex kind of authorship, the peculiarities of which we can be grateful to her for articulating.”

—Basile Baudez, Eighteenth-Century Studies

“Minor’s book is highly rewarding on many levels: she deftly combines close readings of Piranesi’s publications with a surgical dissection of his source material and rich contextualization in eighteenth-century intellectual life. . . . Minor succeeds in resituating Piranesi as a scholar engaging in many of the most heated intellectual debates of the time—even if his responses to those debates were unique.”

—Jessica Maier, Eighteenth-Century Life

“With scholarly poise and forensic flair, Heather Hyde Minor restores the corpuscules to Piranesi’s corpo—the body of work extending from Roman Antiquities to Different Ways of Ornamenting Chimneys. Piranesi’s Lost Words makes a compelling case for understanding this eccentric genius as an artist akin to William Blake, one for whom writing and image-making were closely intertwined. By exploring the composite nature of Piranesi’s art, Minor not only deepens our understanding of his oeuvre but also situates it more fully within Enlightenment conversations about the classical past. As Piranesi would have wished, this book reaches out to diverse audiences: not only scholars of various persuasions but also latter-day Grand Tourists who find Piranesi an inexhaustible source of fascination.”

—Bruce Redford, author of Dilettanti: The Antic and the Antique in Eighteenth-Century England

“Heather Hyde Minor has written an entirely new kind of book about Piranesi. Here we can assess Piranesi not primarily as an architect or as an engraver but as a maker of books. Minor gives emphasis to Piranesi’s words and how they amplify the long-recognized originality of his images. She also gives us an immediate feeling for Piranesi the obstinate, sometimes disputatious scholar-artist who did not shrink from debate with the socially mighty among his foreign patrons.”

—Alden R. Gordon, Trinity College

“In this original and witty interpretation, Minor corrects our too-narrow view of one of the major cultural figures of the eighteenth century.”

—John Beldon Scott, University of Iowa

Giovanni Battista Piranesi was one of the most important artists eighteenth-century Europe produced. But Piranesi was more than an artist; he was an engraver and printmaker, architect, antiquities dealer, archaeologist, draftsman, publisher, bookseller, and author. In Piranesi’s Lost Words, Heather Hyde Minor considers Piranesi the author and publisher, focusing on his major publications from 1756 to his death in 1778. Piranesi designed and manufactured twelve beautiful, large-format books combining visual and verbal content over the course of his lifetime. While the images from these books have been widely studied, they are usually considered in isolation from the texts in which they originally appeared. This study reunites Piranesi’s texts and images, interpreting them in conjunction as composite art. Minor shows how this composite art demonstrates Piranesi’s gift for interpreting the classical world and its remains—and how his books offer a critique of both the Enlightenment project of creating an epistemology of the classical past and how eighteenth-century scholars explicated this past. Piranesi’s books, Minor argues, were integral to the emergence of the modern discipline of art history. Using new, previously unpublished archival material, Piranesi’s Lost Words refines our understanding of Piranesi’s works and the eighteenth-century context in which they were created.


List of Illustrations



1. Reading Piranesi in the Twenty-First Century

2. Reading Piranesi in the Eighteenth Century

3. How Piranesi Made a Book Out of Fragments of Ancient Texts and Buildings

4. How Piranesi Made a Book Out of Fragments of Modern Texts and Images

5. How Piranesi Made a Book That Questions It All

6. How Piranesi’s Words Got Lost

7. How Piranesi’s Words Got Found




Heather Hyde Minor is Associate Professor of Art History at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of The Culture of Architecture in Enlightenment Rome (Penn State, 2010).

Examines the writings of eighteenth-century Italian engraver and artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi.