Giovanni Battista Piranesi's 'Carceri d'Invenzione' ('Imaginary Prisons') are a series of poster-size etchings depicting a dark prison world - though prison is far too tame a word for these vast, nightmarish vaults where tiny figures wander amid gigantic machines, endless stairs and senseless ornaments. Some prints show people imprisoned or tortured, but mostly they are concerned with the grand, decaying architecture of a civilization gone horribly wrong.
Piranesi's 'Carceri' look like something Kafka, Borges and Escher would concoct together, except they are two centuries older. They were published in two versions, of which the second (in 1761) is by far the best for its stark contrasts and greater detail.
Among the many artworks influenced by Piranesi is the graphic novel 'The Tower', part of the 'Les Cités Obscures' ('Cities of the Fantastic') series by Schuiten and Peeters, devoted entirely to imaginary architectures.
Complete 'Carceri' on display @ Boijmans Van Beuningen until 24/9.