Russian Piranesianism

Read in The Moscow Times of 29 September 2016:


The many works of Piranesi can be admired now in the Pushkin Museum in Moscow. The exhibition will last till 13 November 2016. I read a review in The Moscow Times this week. More than 1.000 square meters of the exhibition space of this great museum opposite the Christ the Saviour church, are dedicated to the etchings of Rome of Giovanni Battista Piranesi, the Italian artist who was born in 1720 en lived in Rome from 1740 till his death in 1778. They called him ‘the Rembrandt of the ruins’. More than 400 artworks are on display, amongst them some 100 etching, both from the Pushkin Museum, the Venetian Cini Foundation and the Russian Academy of Fine Arts. Each work is accompanied by a photograph of the same site taken some three centuries later in time. Why this exhibition? And how is it being received in the capital of Russia? In The Moscow Times it was stressed that Piranesi had a huge influence on Russian culture. “The entire idea of the exhibition is to show the predecessors and the teachers of Piranesi as well as his followers, with a focus on Russia.” His influence started with the architects who built the empire of Catherine the Great and who were very much inspired by Piranesi’s drawings of Rome. But also think of the cinema of Sergei Eisenstein. And then, later in the twentieth century, the design of the triumphal columns, obelisks, arches and mausoleums during the Soviet Union, they all were inspired by his genius, so much so that it was called Russian Piranesianism.

Rome always was an example to great emperors. Napoleon, Napoleon III, Stalin, they all wanted to build like their Roman predecessors. Does the exhibition fit in a recent political longing for building a new, greater Moscow agglomeration? Who knows. The Russian metropolitan region is growing fast, bold plans are being made. “Piranesi is not just a style or a genre, he is also the expression of an aspiration always present in the human being, the yearning of a constant creation and demolition,” says Valery Koshlyakov, a Russian contemporary artist. Near the end of the exhibition, Koshlyakov painted  a striking ceiling-high work that demands the attention of the visitors. They will get overwhelmed, for sure. And some lessons will be learned. Dmitry Khanin, for instance, who owns Moscow’s Triumph Gallery, told the Washington Post: “We can see that play of ideas here. One empire trying to build on the ruins of another empire, which has already drowned. It drowns too. You can’t bring back a dead empire, that’s what we learn.” You might say Piranesi fits in the Russian soul.





Geef een reactie

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *