Photograph by Richard Nowitz; all etchings the property of St. Luke’s Gallery, Washington D.C.

For Piranesi, the Colosseum symbolized not only imperial Rome but also the collapse of a great civilization. This dark, brooding etching of the Colosseum’s interior, overgrown and rubble-choked, suggests the decay of even mighty empires. The 20th-century French novelist Marguerite Yourcenar described Piranesi’s works as meditations on “duration,” on the “slow erosion of things.”