Canaletto: Capriccio or Fact?

In the previous two blogs we have learnt a little more about Canaletto and especially how his paintings done in England differ from those of Venice and Rome. But as alluded to in my last blog, Canaletto also liked to move recognised buildings from one spot to another because he thought he would improve the image. And I agree. Town planners never get the topographical composition quite right! So when you look at a Canaletto painting of Venice it might not necessarily be representative of the exact real life image.These works of Canaletto's are termed Capricci (imaginary works). Let's have a look at an example.

This lovely scape (above) of Venice Capriccio a Palladian Design for the Rialto Bridge with Buildings at Vicenza contains three Palladian monuments, set next to each other but none are actually in Venice!! In fact one doesn’t even exist! The work can be interpreted as an homage to Andrea Palladio. It shows two works by the important Renaissance architect as well as a design for the Rialto Bridge in Venice which never came to fruition. On the right is the Basilica Palladiana in Vicenza which was begun in 1549, one of the earliest works of the then unknown Palladio. The Palazzo Chiericati, which is also located in Vicenza and was completed shortly after the Basilica, is shown on the left edge of the work. The centre of the composition is dominated by Palladio's unrealised design for the Rialto Bridge in Venice. Instead of Palladio's work, a design by the unknown architect Antonio da Ponte was used for this famous bridge created in 1588. (Ref: lempertz.com)

I rather like Canaletto's capricci. The composition is of course perfect as he has used his artist's eye to get the right mix of buildings and other topographical features. This one is Capriccio of the Scuola di San Marco from the Loggia of the Palazzo Grifalconi Loredan.

Canaletto; painted many capricci. I think this one is my favourite, titled Cappriccio of a Man Scaling a Wall.

And this one is Romano City Gate Tower.

He also created English Landscape Capriccio with a Palace when in England perhaps to remind himself of his time back in Venice.

In contrast to producing the capricci, Canaletto recorded important events which we hope were factual. This one records the Arrival of the French Ambassador at the Doges Palace, Venice. The amount of detail, the execution of the figures is remarkable.

This magnificent image is of London Westminster Abbey with a Procession of Knights of the Bath.

One of his most remarkable works is The Old Horse Guards from St James's Park (1749) which we saw in the previous blog. Here I give you a closer look.

It is among the largest paintings that Canaletto executed in England, produced as a speculative venture shortly after his arrival in London and sold soon after to the Earl of Radnor for the pricey sum of 80 guineas. It is a masterly painting, depicting the Old Horse Guards, with the Office of Paymaster General, the Admiralty and the steeple of St. Martin-in-the-Fields visible beyond to the left. To the right are the tall brick town houses of Downing Street. It is packed with discrete details, some charming, some amusing, like the group of men urinating against a brick garden wall. But over all it is an open, marvelously rich and expansive representation of the London of the era. (Ref:www.nytimes.com)

There are some of Canaletto paintings which seem to get forgotten amongst the beauty of his Venetian works and the controversy surrounding his time in England. Canaletto painted scenes from other European countries and like his English works are somewhat different to those painted in Venice. This is View from Munich. The Bridge and the Isar.

(Source: canalettogallery.com) And here we see View from Pirna. The Sun Stone Fortress View. Pirna is in Germany.
(Source: canalettogallery.com)

Which painting is my favourite Canaletto? Entrance to the Arsenal wins in my mind. I love the composition and the colours but then I think it reminds me of some of the works of the Dutch masters which I adore. This picture is one of more than 20 vedute (views) purchased in 1736 by John 4th Duke of Bedford and hangs in the Dining Room at Woburn Abbey, residence of the current 15th Duke. The painting shows the entrance to the Arsenale, site of Venetian shipbuilding for over 600 years. The Antonio Gambello gateway on the left is an interpretation of the triumphal Roman Arch of the Sergii in Pula (Croatia). The archway’s St. Mark’s lion is a symbol of Venice’s imperial power, and the statue of Santa Giustina on the archway’s pinnacle celebrates the Venetian navy’s victory over the Turkish fleet at Lepantoon, Giustina’s feastday, 7 October 1571.
(Ref: watermark.silverchair.com)

There can be no doubt Canaletto was a remarkable and highly skilled artist. So to conclude our short course on Canaletto, tomorrow we are going to look at some of his drawings and etchings. His expertise in being able to execute the exact dash of colour, the perfect placement of a *stroke of a line stems from his formidable skill with a pencil!

The Hero Image today is: Capriccio of a Round Church with an Elaborate Gothic Portico in a Piazza, a Palladian Piazza and a Gothic Church Beyond.

Anne Newman

Oil Painter in realistic genre style, predominantly buildings and people. To continue the discussion contact Anne on anewman@netspace.net.au or phone +61 407 516 522

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Subscribe to Anne Newman Artist

Get the latest posts delivered right to your inbox.

or subscribe via RSS with Feedly!