Two hundred drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi discovered in Germany, thanks to a 20-year-old student

A sensational discovery in Germany: two hundred drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi have been found at the Karlsruhe Kunsthalle thanks to the insight of Georg Kabierske, a 20-year-old student.

Before giving the news, a small preamble: it is indeed singular that in Italy alleged discoveries in the field of art history that turn out to be resounding duds often make noise, while other discoveries that, although they have not yet been verified with all due scruples, have nevertheless received considerable interest from the scientific community not only because of their exceptionality, but also and above all because of their credibility, go unnoticed. We refer, in particular, to a discovery that was reported in the German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine, involving some two hundred drawings that can be traced back to the hand of one of the greatest artists of the 18th century, Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 - 1778). But before we talk about the discovery, we would like to express our heartfelt thanks to art historian Fabrizio Federici (you will undoubtedly know him for the fine Mo(n)stre page he runs), who first “caught” our attention on the subject, and then helped us translate the sources from German: yes, because outside of Germany very few people talk about it.

The discovery of Piranesi’s two hundred drawings (some made by him, others by his atélier, at least according to initial analysis) is due, you think, to a young man in his early twenties, Georg Kabierske, born in 1994: the German student, a year ago, was doing an internship at the Staatliche Kunsthalle (State Art Gallery), the main museum in the city of Karlsruhe, known to most for its Baroque buildings and for being one of the last major European cities whose construction results from precise and well-thought-out urban planning, with the streets and buildings of the urban layout arranged to form a fan (hence the nickname Fächerstadt, precisely “fan city”). Kabierske was studying some engravings by Piranesi in the institute’s possession, and had the idea of comparing them with some sheets, assembled in two full-bodied albums, which were believed to be the work of a well-known German architect who lived at the turn of the 18th century, Friedrich Weinbrenner (1766 - 1826): after a stay in Italy made between 1792 and 1796, Weinbrenner brought with him, for teaching purposes, some studies of ancient buildings and sculptures made precisely in Italy. Upon the artist’s death, the considerable corpus of drawings, including those he produced and those brought from Rome, entered the collections of the Grand Duke of Baden (Karlsruhe was the capital of the grand duchy) and from there later flowed into the Kunsthalle’s collection.

Studying the work, Georg Kabierske re-examined many of the drawings in the corpus and compared them with Piranesi’s etchings, as well as with known drawings (until before the discovery, the number of known Piranesi drawings was estimated at about five to six hundred): he thus realized, first, that the sheets were attributable to different hands. And then that the similarities with Piranesi’s works were many, as well as striking. It was particularly the plates depicting landscapes with ruins, typical of Piranesi’s production, that spurred him to close comparisons and led him to the conclusion that the drawings in the two albums were largely attributable to Piranesi and his circle. The discovery was presented at the Kunsthalle’s Kupferstichkabinett (Engraving Gallery), in the presence of numerous experts, including the director of the Engraving Gallery, Dorit Schäfer (as well as Georg’s tutor during his apprenticeship... !), that of the Kunsthalle, Pia Müller-Tamm, and art historian Christoph Frank, a specialist on the art of late Baroque Rome. And obviously attracting the attention of international experts on Piranesi’s art. Among the latter is Andrew Robinson of the National Gallery in Washington, who has already come out in favor of assigning to Piranesi two views from the collection, which he has already had a chance to look at: for the other drawings, he said he was waiting to view them directly. And to think that Robinson himself had already been to Karlsruhe to study the engravings, but had not thought to make more thorough checks to see if the Kunsthalle also possessed drawings by Piranesi... !

Georg Kabierske tra Dorit Schaefer (a sinistra) e Pia Mueller-Tamm (a destra)
Georg Kabierske between Dorit Schaefer (left) and Pia Mueller-Tamm (right).

Kabierske, also counting on the help of Christoph Frank, has “placed some of the album drawings within Piranesi’s artistic path,” the Frankfurter Allgemeine lets us know, thus managing to coherently contextualize several works and strengthen his hypotheses. The results of the study will be published in the summer issue of the American scholarly journal Master Drawings, in an article bearing an eloquent title: A Cache of Newly Identified Drawings by Piranesi and His Studio at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe, or “A Hidden and Newly Identified Collection of Drawings by Piranesi and His Studio at the Staatliche Kunsthalle Karlsruhe.”

The revolutionary significance of the discovery also seems clear (pending, of course, confirmation by other experts). It would add to the known works of Giovanni Battista Piranesi a remarkable corpus of drawings that will help scholars better frame his activity, learn more about his relationships both with other artists of the time and with antiquity, and update the point about his influence on the history of art (an influence that is already well known and circumstantiated anyway: but the importance of Piranesi’s art we will discuss in later posts!). And, of course, this is a discovery that will be discussed. Although, and here we add a small polemical note, in Italy almost no one is talking about it. Even though it is, this time, a discovery that has aroused real interest among scholars.

And Georg Kabierske, the very young author of the discovery, how did he react to his sensational achievement? While waiting to see his study published in Master Drawings, he merely made a statement to the Frankfurter Allgemeine: he let it be known that his intention is to continue his studies in the field of art history. And that one should never trust traditional attributions, but only and simply to one’s own eye. As we wait to learn more details about the discovery, we can only wish a very bright career to this promising young man.

Warning: the translation into English of the original Italian article was created using automatic tools. We undertake to review all articles, but we do not guarantee the total absence of inaccuracies in the translation due to the program. You can find the original by clicking on the ITA button. If you find any mistake,please contact us.