Canaletto: Master Drawer and Etcher

As mentioned in an earlier blog there was the opinion that Canaletto used the Camera Obscura to trace the detailed and accurate images of architectural features as appear in his paintings. But thanks to the art experts at the Royal Collection Trust and Infrared Technology it has been officially declared that Canaletto sketched his images with a pencil and ruler! I'm sorry about the quality of the image but this remarkable drawing of The Grand Canal, Vencie was produced by Canaletto using only his naked eyes and hands.
(Credit:Royal Collection Trust)

The original marks made by the artist have now been seen for the first time in nearly 300 years, and have been hailed as “categorically” proving he did not trace the works using camera tricks. (Furness, 2017)

This drawing of The Piazzetta looking towards Santa Maria della Salute was done by Canaletto in about 1723-4.
(Credit: Royal Collection Trust)

The Infrared Image of the same drawing shows Canaletto's pencil workings underneath.
(Credit: Royal Collection Trust)

In particular, the results of the infrared images identified the extensive underdrawing of buildings, down to chimneys, windows and facades, and how the artist used a ruler to outline reflections in the water. Experts can now see how he copied over the pencil lines in ink, before adding spontaneity with freehand birds, clouds and ripples on the water.(Furness, 2017)
And this is the image in its finished state. You can see Canaletto has removed the column on the left and added another column on the right.
(Credit: Royal Collection Trust).

We will now take a quick look at a couple of Canaletto etchings which were done using the Drypoint technique. In this engraving method the design to be printed is scratched directly into a copperplate with a sharply pointed instrument. Drypoint is easier for an artist trained in drawing to master than engraving, as the technique of using the needle is closer to using a pencil than the engraver's burin.(Wikipedia) This etching is titled La Torre di Malghera (1735-1746)
(Credit: Art Gallery of NSW)

Canaletto and his nephew Bernardo Bellotto began to experiment with etching in the early 1740s, an enterprise that has often been attributed to the decline in visitors to Venice and commissions following the War of Austrian Succession. Many of Canaletto's prints take their subject matter from the locks, sluice gates and summerhouses along the Brenta Canal towards Padua; others are entirely imaginary. Canaletto made just thirty-three etchings in total. (

After the image has been etched the artist applies ink to the plate with a dauber. Too much pressure will flatten the burrs and ruin the image. Once the plate is completely covered with a thin layer, a tarlatan cloth (open-weave muslin) is used to wipe away excess ink. Once the desired amount of ink is removed, the plate is run through an etching press along with a piece of dampened paper to produce a print.(Wikipedia) This is a particularly delightful etching by Canaletto titled Le Porte Del Dolo (1735-1746).

(Credit: Art Gallery of NSW)

We will conclude with a couple more of Canaletto's images of Venice as a salute this wonderful artist.

The Hero Image today is An imaginary view of Padua by Canaletto (Source: Art Gallery NSW*

Reference: Furness, H. Royal Collection uses infrared to prove Canaletto did not trace his drawings, Telegraph, UK. 14 Apr 2017)

Anne Newman

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

Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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