Plate 6 from Carceri d'Invenzione

The Smoking Fire, c. 1761

Not on Viewexpand_more

In this view of a prison interior, Giovanni Battista Piranesi explored his imagination through architecture realized only on paper, unfettered by practical considerations. The scene revels in the sublime—the flipside of the Age of Enlightenment—in which Romantics opened themselves to the sensation of forces beyond human comprehension and control. Piranesi intended us to lose ourselves as we wander through his maze of stairways, balconies, and catwalks leading to unknown destinations. This is the scary movie of the 18th century.

Perspective of Arches belongs to a suite of such prison scenes. A decade after their first appearance in the late 1740s, Piranesi went back to work on his copper plates, darkening the images both literally and figuratively. It is in no small part due to the radical rethinking evident between the two iterations of the Prisons (see Mia 2010.87) that Piranesi is sometimes called “the Rembrandt of Architecture.” Perspective of Arches is among the most freely drawn plates of the first edition and among the most radically transformed in the second.

The Smoking Fire
Artist Life
Italian, 1720–1778
Accession Number
Erbach-Erbach family, Schloss Erbach Hofbibliothek, Erbach (Odenwald), Germany. F. H. Bresler Gallery, Milwaukee, Wisc.
Catalogue Raisonne
Hind prisons 06 ii/iii, F.29, Robison 32 vi/vii
Curator Approved

This record is from historic documentation and may not have been reviewed by a curator, so may be inaccurate or incomplete. Our records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email

Does something look wrong with this image? Let us know

Zoom in on the left to the detail you'd like to save. Click 'Save detail' and wait until the image updates. Right click the image to 'save image as' or copy link, or click the image to open in a new tab.

Plate 6 from Carceri d'Invenzione