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A very fine, early impression of one of Piranesi’s greatest prints, from the 2nd edition of the Carceri (Prisons) (plate IX).
The 2nd edition of the Carceri was more complicated in technique than the 1st edition. Since the entire work on these plates continued to be in pure etching, Piranesi had to cover his plate with a varnish heavy enough to protect the etched lines of his first edition, but sufficiently transparent to allow him to add the new lines in logical aesthetic relationships. The complications of composition were such that Piranesi sometimes repeated the varnishing, drawing and etching process ten and twelve times on each plate in order for the whole etching to harmonize together. Furthermore, in order to achieve desired effects, it would appear that he actually “painted” the attacking acid onto isolated, exposed areas of his plates. Through working and reworking and in plunging his plates repeatedly into the biting acid, Piranesi was able to achieve beautiful blacks.