Canaletto’s View of Grand Canal with the Church of San Simeone Piccolo.
National Gallery, London
Same view as above today. Note the train station has replaced most of the palaces on the right; the remaining one is under renovation. But the gondolas are still there! Photo by Richard Varr
One of my favorite things to do in the lagoon city nicknamed”Bride of the Sea” or “Queen of the Adriatic” is to find the very spots where the 18th century verdute artists Canaletto and his nephew Bernardo Bellotto painted their stunning views of timeless Venice. Those places are not hard to find simply because the city really hasn’t changed much in the last 300 or 400 years.
Take a look at my photos throughout this blog post taken during my visit in early April, and see the similarities. Note that it’s hard to capture the exact view — even with a wide-angle lens. AND, Canaletto and Bellotto often used artist license, altering reality somewhat — space and distance — to fit what they wanted on canvas.
View of the Grand Canal with Church of Santa Maria Della Salute. Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Similar view of above today. The canal is actually wider and I couldn’t get the exact view as I’d have to be on a boat! Photo by Richard Varr
Born Giovanni Antonio Canal in 1697, Canaletto’s training started at an early age as his father Bernardo painted theater sets and backdrops. This background provided him with great precision in architectural painting, yet with the ability to enhance perspective and illusion within his views. Living in Venice for most of his life, Canaletto painted vedute for visiting wealthy patrons who simply wanted a souvenir to take back with them, just as a modern day tourist might snap photos or buy postcards.
Like other view painters of his day, including Francesco Guardi, Michele Marieschi and his own nephew, Bernardo Bellotto, Canaletto created his snapshot images with the aid of the camera obscura. Using the same principle as a camera, a lens inside the instrument reflects an image that is traced on paper and later transferred it to a larger canvas. Separate images were often combined to create large and wide view paintings.
Bellotto’s view of the Scuola Grande di San Marco. Gallerie dell’ Accademia, Venice
Same view as above. Note the canal seems wider in the painting, and my wide-angle lens slanted the tall buildings along the canal. Photo by Richard Varr
Despite Canaletto producing scores of paintings for his patrons, only four or five such masterpieces are on display in Venice. Two are at the Accademia, with the remainder housed in the CA’ Rezzonico museum. Most were taken to England, with many eventually finding homes in museums and private collections throughout Europe and North America.