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

The Digital Piranesi

View of the Small Waterfalls in Tivoli

Piranesi here depicts a natural scene where there is almost no sign of human interference. Uniquely devoid of any man-made structures, this view suggests his potential skills as a landscape artist of a particularly Romantic bent (Scott 175), and it shares the compositional features of the previous view of the large waterfall: in each, a cliff looms on the left, a human figure gestures perilously towards the water, fishermen labor in the foreground, and the title appears within the image in a trompe-l’œil slab on the lower right. Its composition also resembles that of a painting of waterfalls at Tivoli by Claude-Joseph Vernet.
The site’s ruins provided ample subject matter for Piranesi’s architectural etchings, which complete the remainder of this volume of the Vedute di Roma. Vernet, though, did not depict the villa’s ruins; considered along with the rarity of Piranesi’s landscape views, the divergences between these two acquaintances is clear. A comparison of their painting and etching of waterfalls, though, additionally demonstrates Piranesi’s methods for conveying tone and texture. 
In Vernet's painting, a lush tree on the left emerges from behind the broken branches of another, and its abundant foliage thoroughly blocks the contour of the cliffs behind it. In Piranesi’s etching, the tree on the left is set off against a blank sky, its gnarled branches either reaching their ends in dark, scratched bunches or dissolving into faint, wispy lines. Biographers place their visit in Spring, as Vernet’s greenery might confirm, but Piranesi’s image suggests a less welcoming landscape. At the center of the images, Vernet’s water falls into gentle foam, while Piranesi’s varied lines dramatize water’s movement, particularly to the left of the cascade. Boundaries between water, rock, and land are lost amid the undulating strokes of Piranesi’s etching needle. The drama he brings to this landscape view, with its foreboding tone and its textural variety, carries over into the views of ruined structures that follow in the volume. (JB)

To see this image in the Vedute di Roma, volume 17 of Piranesi’s Opere, click here

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