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Francesco Piranesi
Date: Italian archiect and printmaker, 1756–1810
Biography: Italian engraver, etcher and architect; the son of the more famous Giovanni Battista Piranesi who continued his father’s series of engravings representing monuments and ancient temples. He worked for a long period in France, where he lived during the French Revolution.
He was instructed in engraving by his father and was assisting with his father's work by 1775. He also studied engraving with Giovanni Volpato, landscape painting under the German Jacob Philipp Hackert and his brother, Georg, and architecture under Pierre-Adrien Pâris.
He accompanied his father on two trips to the ancient Roman ruins in Pompei, Paestum and Ercolano, first in 1770, and again in 1778. Upon his father's death, shortly after the second trip, Francesco acquired his father's publishing house and was responsible for printing most of the later editions of his prints.
He collaborated with the French artist Louis-Jean Desprez on a series of views of Naples, Rome and Pompeii, which were advertised in 1783 as dessins coloriés and sold at Piranesi’s shop in Rome. Although the 1783 advertisement promised 48 views, the series was not completed before Desprez left Rome to enter the employ of King Gustav III of Sweden. In the following years, Piranesi built his reputation primarily upon his engravings of antique statuary.
The occupation of the Italian peninsula in 1798 by the French Revolutionary Army led to the establishment of the short-lived Roman Republic. Piranesi soon won the admiration of the French officials directing the republic, becoming a government official. When the republic fell the following year, together with his younger brother, Pietro, he moved to Paris where he soon gained the admiration of Talleyrand. They opened a new branch of the family enterprise there, called Piranesi Frères, which decorated a line of terracotta vases manufactured in imitation of the ancient Etruscan works by Joseph Bonaparte.
In 1807 Pietro Piranesi sold his share of the firm and returned to Rome. Francesco fell upon hard times after this. The Emperor Napoleon came to his help, issuing an imperial decree granting the sum of 300,000 French francs, upon the condition that Piranesi dedicate himself solely to his engraving work, then considered the best in Europe. He died unexpectedly in Paris, however, before he could fulfill his contract.