This page was created by Alexis Kratzer.  The last update was by Jeanne Britton.

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Waterfall of Tivoli

In Piranesi’s Views of Rome, nature dominates over man-made structures as vines creep over fallen ruins and foliage appears on the highest levels of imposing monuments. Within this context, this and the following engraving are significant departures for their focus on natural elements. In the eighteenth century, waterfalls evoke the sublime, an aesthetic concept of special significance during Piranesi’s lifetime. It is particularly the surrounding cliffs and the precarious positions of small human figures, some of whom gesture dangerously towards the water, that suggest the sense of physical threat that constitute the sublime for Edmund Burke and Immanuel Kant, its primary theorists. Myra Nan Rosenfeld identifies in Piranesi’s earlier grotesques and prisons a sense of “sublime pathos” that also appears here (57). The classical treatise On the Sublime by Longinus was translated into every major European language in the first half of the eighteenth century, and Piranesi is thought to have read the Italian translation of 1733 by Antonio Francesco Gori. He uses the term in 1748 in the dedication of the Antichità Romane to Giovanni Gaetano Bottari, which is not included in the Opere. In expressing his gratitude to Bottari, Piranesi describes “the vastness of a profound and sublime literature” found in his library. (JB)

To see this image in Vedute di Roma, vol 17 of Piranesi's Opere, click here.

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