Giovanni Battista Piranesi was not known for his sense of humor, and yet there is something funny about his drawing of six Roman masks. At first glance, these are typical examples of ancient theatrical masks of the kind usually made from terracotta and found all around the Mediterranean. With their wide-open eyes and gaping mouths, the masks have exaggerated expressions designed to be legible from long distances. The last mask of Piranesi’s half-dozen stands out, however, as familiar and specific rather than generic. Instead of hair wound into tight braids, the mask is bald, with large ears poking out at the sides. In his new book Sublime Ideas: Drawings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, John Marciari suggests that the grinning face is the artist’s own. Marciari assigns the sheet of drawings to late in Piranesi’s career, when the artist was exploring the ruins of Pompeii in preparation for a suite of prints devoted to the site. Born in 1720, Piranesi was in his fifties when he began the suite, already sick with the bladder disease that would kill him in 1778. His drawings of Roman masks are easy to imagine as an outtake from the Pompeii project, an effort to continue his life’s work of reanimating the material remains of antiquity while laughing through the pain.