Finally, the vantage points his images adopt echo but significantly expand the compositions of his predecessors, such as Giovanni Antonio Canaletto (above) or Giuseppe Vasi (below), which are shown on the left in these pairs.
Many of his views, such as those of bridges from both the Vedute di Roma (top row) and Antichità Romane (bottom row) below, amplify the dramatic possibilities of sharp diagonals and sunken viewpoints.
In Piranesi’s hands, visual perspective often relates to verbal information. Many of his views of Renaissance palaces follow a harsh diagonal that ends, at the vanishing point, with an annotation. These distant annotations extend the visual effects of dramatic one-point perspective by making verbal information the destination for a viewer’s eyes. Other subjects are presented in ways that elaborate on this relationship between visual perspective and verbal information. In different etchings, Piranesi often depicts the same structure from many vantage points. In these views of the same subject (such as the Colosseum, Antonine Baths, or the Baths of Titus), one view often enumerates architectural details in its captions while other views of the same structure aggrandize, from sunken perspectives, hulking, ruined shapes that have no annotations. Looking at one image and then another, viewers shift their perspective—from exterior to interior, from elevated to sunken positions—in ways that relate to Piranesi’s presentation of information. His Vedute di Roma, when they are seen as informational images in the sense James Elkins proposed, “can present more complex questions of representation, convention, medium, production, interpretation, and reception than much of fine art” (4-5). Piranesi’s correlation between, on one hand, shifting and dramatic perspectives and, on the other, the display of information returns to the connections between perspective and knowledge that Erwin Panofsky identified in “Perspective as Symbolic Form” and that Hubert Damish explores in The Origins of Perspective. In this way, his use of alternating perspectives, in conjunction with his captions, can be seen as reflections on the display and acquisition of information, the situatedness of historical conjecture, and the limits of knowledge rather than mere demonstrations of geometrical skill. (JB)