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Canaletto
 
 

Giovanni Antonio Canal
 
 

Canaletto, byname of Giovanni Antonio Canal (born Oct. 18, 1697—died April 20, 1768), Italian topographical painter whose masterful expression of atmosphere in his detailed views (vedute) of Venice and London and of English country homes influenced succeeding generations of landscape artists.

 
Canaletto was born into a noble family whose coat of arms he occasionally used as a signature. How he came to be known as Canaletto is uncertain, however; perhaps the name was first used to distinguish him from his father, Bernardo Canal, a theatrical scene painter in whose studio Canaletto assisted. Canaletto is recorded as working with his father and brother in Venice from 1716 to 1719 and in Rome in 1719–20, painting scenes for Alessandro Scarlatti operas. It was in Rome that Canaletto left theatrical painting for the topographical career that was to bring him international fame so quickly, although a close connection to his theatrical work remained in his choice of subject matter, his use of line and wash drawings, and his theatrical perspective.

When he returned to Venice, he began his contact with the foreign patrons who would continue as his chief support throughout his career. Four large paintings were completed for the Prince of Liechtenstein, in or before 1723, and in 1725–26 he finished a series of pictures for Stefano Conti, a merchant from Lucca. Dated memorandums accompanying the Conti pictures suggest how busy and yet how exacting the artist was at this time. Canaletto indicates that delays in the delivery of the pictures had been due to the pressure of other commissions and his own insistence on obtaining reliable pigments and on working from nature. In his pictures of the late 1720s, such as The Stonemason’s Yard, he combined a freedom and subtlety of manner that he was rarely to achieve again with an unrivaled imaginative and dramatic interpretation of Venetian architecture.

 
His understanding of sunlight and shadow, cloud effects, and the play of light on buildings support the contention in his memorandums that he was working out-of-doors, which was a most unusual procedure for painters of that time.

Throughout the 1730s Canaletto was deeply absorbed in meeting foreign demands for souvenir views of Venice. Such was the pressure upon him that he ultimately was forced to work largely from drawings and even from other artists’ engravings, rather than from nature. He also developed the use of the camera ottica, a device by which a lens threw onto a ground-glass screen the image of a view, which could be used as a basis for a drawing or painting. Finally, he developed a mechanical technique, in which ruler and compasses played a part, and architecture and figures were put into the picture according to a dexterous and effective formula. Such a vast number of views of Venice were produced during his lifetime that it is often thought that Canaletto was head of a large studio, but there is no evidence of this.

 
 
Canaletto had no serious rivals. The painter Luca Carlevaris, who may have been his initial inspiration in choosing to produce topographical pictures for a largely foreign audience, had been driven from the field; Bernardo Bellotto, Canaletto’s nephew, was not yet a mature painter; and Michele Marieschi was a follower rather than a competitor.
Because of this lack of rivals, Canaletto became increasingly difficult to deal with. Owen Mac Swinney, an English operatic figure and patron of Canaletto, wrote as early as 1727,

The fellow is whimsical and varys his prices, every day: and he that has a mind to have any of his work, must not seem to be too fond of it, for he'l be y worse treated for it, both in the price and the painting too.

The outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740, which cut down sharply the number of visitors to Venice, seriously affected Canaletto’s commissions. At this point, an early acquaintance, Joseph Smith—publisher, merchant, and later British consul in Venice—stepped into the breach.

As standardized views of Venice dropped from demand, Smith seems to have encouraged Canaletto to expand his range of subjects to include Roman monuments and the area of Padua and the Brenta River.

 
Interior view of the Henry VII Chapel,
Westminster Abbey, London
 
 
Pictures composed of more or less recognizable elements rearranged (capriccio) and pictures composed of almost completely imaginary architectural and scenic elements (veduta ideata) now began to play an increasingly important part in Canaletto’s work.

In 1741–44 Canaletto also made a series of 30 etchings, exceptionally skillful and sensitive, showing a command of perspective and luminosity.

Canaletto’s international reputation served him well as the tourists became more scarce. In 1746 he went to England, where he was welcomed, and remained until 1755, despite an invitation to Dresden from the elector of Saxony. He worked mainly in London, on English views. Although English atmosphere, architecture, and topography differed considerably from that of Venice, Canaletto there produced many works of great freshness and impact.

On his return to Venice, however, his reputation had not diminished; and at last he received official recognition—election to the Venetian Academy in 1763 and, in the same year, appointment as prior of the Collegio dei Pittori.

William G. Constable

Encyclopædia Britannica

 
 
 
 

The Piazzetta towards S. Giorgio Maggiore
c. 1724
Oil on canvas
Royal Collection, Windsor



Perspective
1765
Oil on canvas, 131 x 93 cm
Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice




Rio dei Mendicanti
1723-24
Oil on canvas, 143 x 200 cm
Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Ca' Rezzonico, Venice


Grand Canal, Looking Northeast from Palazo Balbi toward the Rialto Bridge
1723-24
Oil on canvas, 144 x 207 cm
Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Ca' Rezzonico, Venice


Grand Canal, Looking East from the Campo San Vio
1723-24
Oil on canvas, 140,5 x 204,5 cm
Thyssen Bornemisza Collection, Madrid


The Grand Canal with the Rialto Bridge in the Background
1724-25
Oil on canvas, 146 x 234 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden


The Grand Canal near the Ponte di Rialto
1725
Oil on canvas, 90,5 x 134,6 cm
Private collection


Riva degli Schiavoni - west side
1726-28
Oil on canvas, 46 x 62,5 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 
 
 
 
 


Canaletto
Piazza San Marco:
Looking East from the South West Corner
1760
Oil on canvas, 45 x 35 cm
National Gallery, London





Grand Canal: Looking North-East toward the Rialto Bridge
c. 1725
Oil on canvas, 146 x 234 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden


Entrance to the Grand Canal: Looking East
c. 1725
Oil on canvas, 65 x 98 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden


Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the Scuola di San Marco
c. 1725
Oil on canvas, 125 x 165 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden


San Giacomo di Rialto
1725-26
Oil on canvas, 95,5 x 117 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden


Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the Scuola di San Marco
1726
Oil on canvas, 90,5 x 136 cm
Private collection


The Grand Canal near Santa Maria della Carita
1726
Oil on canvas, 90 x 131,5 cm
Private collection


La Punta della Dogana (Custom Point)
1726-28
Oil on canvas, 46 x 62,5 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

 
 
 

 
 
 
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