Satirical vignette against Bertrand Chaupy  

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"In the same decade in which Piranesi reconstructed the Campus Martius, the exiled French abbot Bertrand Capmartin de Chaupy undertook studies and excavations at the alleged site of Horace’s Sabine Villa, 35 miles northeast of Rome (De Chaupy 1767-69). In the three stubby volumes he published on the problem, he could not spare a single page for an illustration of the site and what he found there. For this, he was to be mercilessly sent up by Piranesi, who in a satirical sketch — known among Piranesi experts as “the turd engraving” — showed what he thought of De Chaupy and his site."[1]

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The turd engraving[2] is the informal title to an engraving by Giovanni Battista Piranesi otherwise known as "Satirical vignette against Bertrand Chaupy". It was published in Diverse Maniere d'Adornare I Cammini ed Ogni Altra Parte degli Edifizi, here[3].

"Indeed, by the time of Piranesi in the late 18th century, there was even an explicit battle between the textual and graphical approaches. Piranesi, the great architect and engraver, was of course on the side of the graphicists. His enemies were scholars such as Mariette and De Chaupy whose works on the monuments were all text and no images. The most amusing expression of this quarrel is perhaps the work of Piranesi which you see illustrated on the screen. In it, Piranesi sends up the three-volume publication on the archaeological site of Horace’s Villa near Tivoli published in the late 1750s by the French Abbe’ Bertrand Capmartin de Chaupy. Chaupy’s 3- volume work obviously has many words, but not one illustration. And as far as those words are concerned, by my estimate, no more than 5% have anything to do with its ostensible subject of study, Horace’s famous Sabine Villa!  On the spine of the books you can see that Piranesi calls Capmartin “Capo Confuso,” or Muddlehead. He  also gives the site plan missing from Capmartin’s book. The scatological shape of the structure on the plan explains why Piranesi scholar John Wilton-Ely gave it its technical name of “The Turd Engraving”!"[4]

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