The river scene they survey is chaotic. Piranesi’s composition deemphasizes the receding lines and sharp diagonals that feature prominently in his other images; instead, the line separating water and land is positioned at a less acute angle and interrupted by a cluster of haphazardly positioned boats. By contrast, Vasi’s view of the same site (below) is orderly, with the boundary between land and river running nearly parallel with the borders of the plate and the few boats in the river more generously and evenly spaced.
Like Vasi’s, Piranesi’s annotations identify buildings along the shore—San Girolamo de’ Schiavoni, the Dogana di Ripetta, the Palazzo del Principe Borghese, and the Collegio Clementino—but Piranesi’s also pause to mark the threat of the Tiber, a river with a long history of severe flooding. The third annotation identifies “Colonne, o mete, nelle quali sono segnate le maggiori escrescenze del Tevere.” Indeed, zooming in reveals that Piranesi includes horizontal lines on their surface. Such measurements throughout the city testify to the history of flooding in strikingly immediate ways (Rinne 22). In the previous etchings of ancient aqueducts and ornamental fountainheads, Piranesi’s visual composition often reinforces the civic, financial, and artistic power that controls the city’s water supply. This image, even with its inclusion of the wide view available to the gentlemen in the lower right, instead testifies to the energies of nature, commerce, and tourism that challenge such power. (JB)