Bookmarking Book Art – The Vedute Foundation

The Vedute Foundation was established in 1991 to create a special collection of “spatial manuscripts” — visualized, tangible and accessible objects to convey concepts of space. The key constraint on the invited artists, architects and designers: the work’s dimension must be that of the Gutenberg Bible, 44 x 32 x 7 cm in closed form. Given that constraint, it is odd how rarely the collection is mentioned in the domain of bookworks, book art or artist books. It shows up in Sarah Bodman and Tom Sowden’s 2020 “A comprehensive reading list for artists’ books”, but book artist and trained architect, Marian Macken has most thoroughly redressed this oddity in Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice (2018).

At the end of 2020, the Vedute collection stood at 223 items. Among them, Piranesian Window by Cees Nagelkerke performs the ideal introduction. Its form and title capture the multiple meanings of vedute (views), some intended by the collection’s founders, some not. Views are things seen — which this art object is. Views are prospects from which to see — which a window offers. Views are perspectives — for which Giambattista Piranesi’s etchings are famous. Views are thoughts held — which “Piranesian” implies. The work’s title could be that of a manuscript on art history and philosophy.

Piranesian Window (1996)
Cees Nagelkerke
Rojo Alicante marble (8 mm thick) and mirror panels (8 mm thick), secured between metal frames. H44 x W32 x D7 cm. Number 0070 in The Vedute Foundation Collection, Rotterdam. Photos: Reproduced with permission of the artist.

Piranesi’s mid-eighteenth century etchings Vedute di Roma (Views of Rome) and Carceri d’invenzione (Imaginary Prisons) are the obvious sources of inspiration. Alongside the images on the Foundation’s site, however, Nagelkerke relates a dream of about the work. The dream’s logic and the mirror in the window frame might recall for some Lewis Carroll’s Through the Looking Glass.

– … Please, continue relating your dream …
– I wandered through vast ruins … along wrecked bridges … feeling remarkably at ease.
– How did you find the window in this windowless world?
– When a cool breeze wafted inside, I suddenly saw it. It showed a landscape, within the distance a city. There was complete tranquillity and harmony there, like in a painting by Piero della Francesca … I stood there for some considerable time and I became increasingly saddened, because I discovered that I was looking at something that had vanished forever.
– But how did you manage to take the window?
– I wanted to touch it … as a result, I immediately fell down. The gap left in the wall closed by itself … I picked it up and continued on my way, meeting people who spoke to me saying that I should leave the Carceri. I was taken to a gateway. No one looked at, or said anything about, the window… In the square where I found myself, there was an intense, chaotic commotion. The window still reflected something of the vast space I had left. The exterior showed traces of the wall in which it had been mounted. I looked through it and saw everyday life …

Together, the embedded mirror-to-mirror view and the window enact multiple enigmas. The mirror-to-mirror view recreates that Escher-like perspective to which Piranesi’s Imaginary Prisons was a forerunner. The open window invites the reader/viewer to look through: “Reader/viewer, read and look by means of the Piranesian Window, read and look to the other side of the Piranesian Window“. In the context of Nagelkerke’s dream, the spatial manuscript brings dreams and traces of the vanished into everyday life. Imagination has created the form that captures imagination but also frees it.

In Piranesian Window, Nagelkerke has delivered a surreal object that, messing with our minds, embodies Piranesi’s distinctly non-neoclassical quip: Col sporcar si trova (“by messing about, one discovers”) (Lowe, p.19). It is a dictum well suited to The Vedute Foundation‘s 223 works (1990 to 2019) and those to come.

Further Reading

Architecture“, Bookmarking Book Art, 12 November 2018.

Bodman, Sarah, and Tom Sowden. “A comprehensive reading list for artists’ books“, University of West England, 2020. Accessed 29 December 2020.

Cridge, Nerma Prnjavorac. Drawing the Unbuildable: Seriality and Reproduction in Architecture (London: Taylor and Francis, 2015). For discussion of Carceri d’invenzione, see chapter 6.

Lowe, Adam. Messing About With Masterpieces: New Work by Giambattista Piranesi (1720-1778),” Art in Print Vol. 1 No. 1 (May–June 2011). Accessed 28 December 2020.

Macken, Marian. Binding Space: The Book as Spatial Practice (London: Taylor and Francis, 2018).

Quevedo, Steven. “Enigmatic Constructions“, 95th ACSA Annual Meeting Proceedings, Fresh Air (2007), pp. 863-870.

The Vedute Foundation (1990 to the present).

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