The making of the work_Part I

The Art of Piranesi: architect, engraver, antiquarian, vedutista, designer.

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View the different elements prepared for the exhibition:

Objects: Isis Tripod
Objects: Candelabrum
Scagliola workshop
Objects: Fireplace
Objects: Fireplace: fire furniture
Objects: Altar
Objects: Helix Tripod
Objects: Coffeepot
Objects: Vase
Objects: Chair
Santa Maria del Priorato
Virtual Carceri

Factum Arte has collaborated with Fondazione Giorgio Cini on the production of a exhibition, curated by Michele De Lucchi, about Italian printmaker and connoisseur Giambattista Piranesi. The exhibition, The Art of Piranesi: architect, engraver, antiquarian, vedutista, designer (Le Arti di Piranesi: architetto, incisore, antiquario, vedutista, designer), has been showcased at Venice Biennial of Architecture, in the Sale del Convitto on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice, from 28th August until 9th January 2011.

The Italian artist Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720 -1778) was a man of exceptional skill whose vision contributed greatly to our understanding of Classical art and architecture. Initially Piranesi trained as an architect but went on to become an inspirational print-maker, publisher, archaeologist, antiquarian, dealer and, most importantly for the theme of this exhibition, a designer. His eclectic taste has had widespread and profound influence in particular on the Neoclassical styles that emerged in England and France in the 18th century.

The Art of Piranesi: architect, engraver, antiquarian, view-maker, designer has been built around Fondazione Giorgio Cini's remarkable collection of the artist's prints. It presents Piranesi's Prisons within a virtual reality installation, the Caffè degli Inglesi as a full-scale evocation, as well as a touch-screen browser to interact with Piranesi's sketchbooks. However, central to this exhibition are the objects made from Piranesi's designs using the most advanced digital technologies and output methods (3D printing).

These objects selected from the artist's designs have been chosen by Adam Lowe, Alessandro Martoni and Michele de Lucchi in conjunction with the leading authority on Piranesi's work, John Wilton-Ely. The objects primarily come from Vasi, Candelabri, Cippi, Sarcofagi, Tripode and from Diverse maniere d'adornare i cammini ed ogni altra parte degli edifizi. Whilst others are based on antique fragments discovered in Hadrian's Villa.

One of the prison etchings from the Carceri d'invenzione series

Factum Arte, voxelstudios and a team of specialist craftsmen working in Madrid have produced these objects. Some have been made using traditional modelling skills while others have been made digitally using ‘organic modelling’ software. This mix of technology combined with traditional craft skills and materials will hopefully result in a meaningful C21st re-interpretation of Piranesi's interests in an excessive and incorporative sense of design. The output from the digital file to the physical object is achieved by using a variety of fabrication technologies including stereo-lithography, milling, fused deposition modelling and 3D printing.

Each object has been finished in the original materials specified by Piranesi – these include bronze, marble, silver and gold leaf. There are seven objects that have been produced in small edition, these include a marble chimney, a coffeepot, two bronze tripods, a chair, a vase and a candelabra.

Piranesi’s fantastical prisons series Carceri d’invenzione is presented as a walkthrough installation designed by Michele De Lucchi with a series of 16 virtual 3D environments created from the artist’s prints by Gregoire Dupond at Factum Arte. These are projected onto large screens within the installation. The task was especially complicated as the spaces inside the prisons are not logical or coherent, but are ‘prisons of the imagination’.

Etching of Piranesi's Egyptian decoration in Caffé Degli Inglesi

The final element produced by Factum Arte for this exhibit is a printed reconstruction of the Caffé Degli Inglesi. Piranesi designed the interior of the Egyptian-themed Caffé Degli Inglesi in Piazza di Spagna, Rome. These designs were originally painted onto the walls of the cafe but are now only documented in two etchings in the Diverse Maniere. The reconstruction of the cafe also contains a selection of prints, mainly focusing on Piranesi’s fireplace designs which highlight his great interest in Egyptian decoration.

On June 2010 The Giorgio Cini Foundation along with the curator of the forthcoming exhibition, Michele De Lucchi, came to Madrid to view the progress of the pieces that Factum Arte are making for the show.

Adam Lowe, Pasquale Gagliardi and Emilio Quintè in one of the Factum Arte workshops viewing one of the enlarged prints which shall be showcased at the forthcoming exhibition

Guiseppe Pavanello, Pasquale Gagliardi and Alessandro Martoni at Factum Arte, Madrid.

Alessandro Martoni, Giovanna Latis, Michele De Lucchi and Adam Lowe at Factum Arte.

Pasquale Gagliardi in front of the Piranesi fireplace at one of the Factum Arte workshops.

Adam Lowe and Michele De Lucchi viewing other Factum Arte projects.

Isis Tripod

This tripod is one of the objects being produced in 3D from Piranesi's designs.

A preview of the rotating 3D model corresponding to the tripod

The 3D virtual version of one of Piranesi's etchings is shown here as a STL file (left) and produced by voxelstudios in Madrid, after which it has been prototyped by Materialise (right) based in Belgium . The process used to build this prototype from a STL file is called sterolithography, the tripod was divided into sections and then each part is built slice by slice from bottom to top, in a vessel of liquid polymer that hardens when struck by a laser beam. The prototype surface is then reworked by hand in order to add the more intricate details and after which a silicon mould is made from which the tripod shall be cast subsequently.



A wax positive of the foot of the Isis Tripod - part of the process of lost wax casting. The foundry work is being carried out at Fademesa, Madrid.

A wax positive of the leg of the Isis Tripod - part of the process of lost wax casting.

A wax positive of the 3 sphinxs from the Isis Tripod - part of the process of lost wax casting.

The prototype leg section of the Isis Tripod, cast in bronze in the Fademesa foundry in Madrid.

Selecting a ball of Alabaster from Antonio Soro's quarry in Fuentes del Ebro. This Alabaster will be used as the top part of the Piranesi Tripod.

Cutting the Alabaster

Section of Alabaster.

Sanding the alabaster top in a basin of water

Comparing the resin prototyped leg of the tripod to the newly cast bronze legs.

Welding the inner side of the legs together in the foundry, Fademesa.

Blow torching the bronze creates chemical reaction which adds a patina to the surface.

Adam Lowe experimenting with different chemicals to further develop the patina.


The tripod after it's patina has been adjusted.




The Isis tripod as seen in the exhibition


Original Piranesi etching of the candelabrum

A close up of the central section of the candlabrum in plaster before the final carving of the details

Ángel Jorquera adding the details to the surface of the plaster cast from a clay model.

A plaster cast section of the candelabrum in the process of re-carving to add extra detail







Ángel assembling the mould for the Candelabrum

Assembling the parts of the full Candelabrum

The Candelabrum as seen in the exhibition

Scagliola workshop








Shapes and texture in white vein scagliola with gypsum crystals and natural wax.

Making of marble scagliola


This is a screen shot of the 3D fireplace being modeled at voxelstudios in a programme called Zbrush, here it is being compared to the original Piranesi etching.

3D scanning of sculpted clay which shall form the decorative freeze around the fireplace

Face models applied to relief details.



This screen shot of the fireplace was done by Materialise, Belgium, before being rapid prototyped. The cuts indicate where the fireplace was divided into sections to fit the prototype tank.

A short animation of the virtual modelling of the fireplace designed by Piranesi. The video is a result of voxelstudios organic modelling work

The resin prototype prepared by Materialise.



The resin prototype in front of the high quality print of the fireplace.

The resin prototype and print of the fireplace next to the print of Piranesi's Caffé Degli Inglesi

A mold of one of the faces on the fireplace made from the resin prototype.

Factum Arte's team working on the composite marble fireplace

Juan Carlos Arias applying the composite marble to the inside of the mould

The composite marble fireplace removed from the mould and being hand finished.


The hand finished fireplace and the composite marble's qualities in different lighting.


The fireplace as seen in the exhibition. With the establishment of the scagliola workshop, it was decided it would be better to make the fireplace in white vein scagliola

The fireplace in white vein scagliola and gypsum crystal



Holding the fireplace's interior to it's structure






Fireplace: fire furniture


The cast iron fire furniture before surface finishing

Lauren welding the cast iron fire furniture (left). The fire furniture being assembled (right)

The fire iron before the final black patina

The fire iron after the final black patina


Original etching of Piranesi's altar

The basin part of the Piranesi altar, modelled in a programme called Zbrush at voxelstudios

The finished altar will be made out of a combination of bronze and marble

Different parts of the altar being assembled in prototype materials.

Detail of the winged lion head on the Altar.

One side of the altar during assembly and prior to moulding

Details of the base for the legs and the animal heads

The altar cast in a resin marble mix as seen in the exhibition

Following the ex hibition, it was decided the altar should be made in bronze with a scagliola top

Sebastián Beyró and Silvia Rosende working on scagliola tests for the altar




The bronze altar after patination

The lion leg being remodelled

Continue to The Making of the work _ Part II

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