Catholic Heritage Blog

Piranesi exhibition at Blairs Museum

Behind the scenes at Blairs Museum a new exhibition is taking shape that invites visitors to imagine themselves as 18th century tourists on the Grand Tour of the Eternal City of Rome. The exhibition is jointly hosted by the Scottish Catholic Heritage Collections Trust and the Diocese of Aberdeen and will showcase a collection of prints from the famed 18th century engraver and architect Giovanni Battista Piranesi (1720-1778).

The prints come from Piranesi’s Vedute di Roma on which he worked from 1747 to the end of his life. The Views were published as individual sheets and in compendiums as books of Vedute. In total there were 135 individual views by Giovanni Battista and 2 by his son Francesco. The collection being shown at Blairs includes 60 prints. These will be divided over 2 seasons. In the first season (2018), Part 1: The Eternal City, includes buildings from and around the Ancient Roman Forum, including temples, bathhouses and triumphal arches. The second season (2019), Part 2: Monument and Fantasy demonstrates the movement from monumental buildings of the ancient city through to the more fantastical representation of the Imperial buildings of Tivoli.

Blairs Museum curator, Dr Alison Burke explains the rationale behind the exhibition. “Piranesi produced individual and books of prints of views of Rome for the tourists undertaking the Grand Tour in the second half of the 18th century and this exhibition invites you to become one of those tourists. The views however, are not an early version of a photograph, they are an impression, a recording of an emotion, a response to grandeur; they are a memory, a moment of inspiration where real, solid masonry is interpreted as theatrical spectacle. This was what the Grand Tourist was buying, a means of capturing the emotion of walking in the final footsteps of Julius Caesar through the Roman Forum, or listening to the orator Cicero making speeches on the steps of the Senate, or imagining the roar of the crowd within the Colosseum as the gladiators commenced battle, before coming back to real time, surrounded by the light, warmth and smells of the 18th century.”

Blairs Museum is also an ideal location to show these perfectly preserved prints. Alison Burke explains the connection. “The permanent collection at Blairs Museum holds a number of iconic Royal Stuart portraits undertaken when the Stuarts where resident in Rome in a palace given to them by Pope Clement XII. At the time that Piranesi was etching his views of Rome in the mid 18th Century, the Stuart court had long established itself there and both Charles Edward Stuart and his brother Henry Benedict (Cardinal of York) were both born in Rome. Their palace was near to where Piranesi set up his studio on then-called Strada Felici, close to the Scots College in Rome and in the heart of a thriving community of Scots who had moved to Rome to be near the Stuart court. Tourist on the Grand Tour from the 1720s onwards, would hope to catch a glimpse of the Royal Stuarts as they either passed their palace or at the Opera. Indeed, any Scot visiting the Stuart Court would be reported to the British ambassador in Florence. Therefore, it seems appropriate to display the prints alongside the images of the Stuart Royal family.

THE GRAND TOUR: Part 1 The Eternal City opened in April 2018 at Blairs Museum. The Museum is open weekends. On Saturday 10 am to 4.30 pm and on Sunday from 12 noon to 4.30 pm. Admission charges apply: Adults £3.50, Concessions £2.50. For more details contact or Tel: 01224 863 767 or follow

Blairs Museum is located at Blairs Estate, South Deeside Road, Aberdeen. AB12 5YQ

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