An important exhibition at Palazzo Braschi (Piazza Navona) commemorates the long and successful international career of Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal, born in 1697, died in 1768), the great Venetian painter, with 42 paintings, 9 drawings and 16 books.
The curator of the exhibition, that will continue until August 19th, 2018, Professor Bożena Anna Kowalczyk, stresses the accent of the exceptionality of some of the lending (many of the paintings and drawings come from private collections) and on the exhaustiveness of the display, that covers the artist’s activity from the very beginning to the last years.
The professional life of Canaletto is synthetized here in 9 sections, and also includes some works of his celebrated nephew and pupil, Bernardo Bellotto.
Canaletto’s beginnings were in Venice and in Rome, between 1716 and 1720, when he collaborated with his father Bernardo, a well-known scenographer and theatrical painter, and with his older brother Cristoforo. Rome powerfully stroke the imagination of the young Venetian with its ruins and picturesque landscapes.
Back to Venice in 1720 Canaletto is already an independent painter and devotes himself to landscape painting, under the influence of Marco Ricci, who was both a prominent landscape painter and a theatrical scenographer. Canaletto’s first successes in Venice date back to 1723.
According to tradition Luca Carlevarijs, the most important landscaper painter in Venice at the time, died of a heartbreak when he saw the rapid raising of his young rival.
From these years we can admire two enchanting views of Venice, ‘The Rialto Bridge seen from the North’ and ‘The Grand Canal at Santa Maria della Carita’’, from the Giovanni and Marella Agnelli Collection in Turin.
The contrasts of light and darkness are emphatic and the tones dense and dramatic: this was certainly derived from his previous activity as a scenographer.
International success arrived around 1727, when Canaletto gets in touch with the Irish bankrupted impresario Owen McSwiney, through which he produces a series of allegories and views of Venice for the Duke of Richmond. Canaletto abandons his dramatic style and dark tones for an intense luminosity, that enhances every architectural element. See for instance the magnificent ‘Return of the Bucintoro’, from Pushkin Museum in Moscow, and some spectacular views of San Giorgio Maggiore and of the Riva degli Schiavoni.
Soon after Canaletto met the person that launched him definitely: Joseph Smith, banker, merchant, man of vast culture and top-notch art collector. Smith’s home on the Grand Canal at Santi Apostoli, was a meeting point for all the British society that came to Venice for the Grand Tour of for business purposes. Thanks to Smith, that also became British Consul in Venice in 1744, Canaletto received important commissions from many wealthy British ‘grand-tourists’, that wanted to bring back home in England a souvenir of Venice.
The idea of preparing a sort of catalogue of Venice’s Grand Canal views proved to be very successful and leaving Venice with a work of Canaletto became a status symbol for the British noblemen.
Canaletto, probably influenced by Newton’s scientific theories about light and color, depicts for them a wonderfully sunny Venice, animated by human figures, rationally described with great attention to any detail. We cannot say, however, that his views are merely ‘photographic’, as he used the ‘camera obscura’, to reconstruct the architectures and perspectives in his studio, assembling different viewpoints. The effect is only apparently realistic. The creative genius of the artist gives life to ‘his own eyes’ reality’. His contribution to the image of Venice in the world was certainly enormous!
Rome was, of course, fundamental for the travelers of the Grand Tour. Possessing a view of the Eternal City to display in your Neo-Palladian villa was a must. Canaletto, in London for almost 10 years, from 1746 to 1755 (during the years of the Austrian Succession War, that prevented the arrival of tourists to Venice) exploited his own drawings of the ruins to fulfil his customers’ requests. His nephew, Bernardo Bellotto, who traveled to Rome most probably in 1742, was attracted instead by ‘modern’ Rome, stressing the accent on architecture (see in his ‘Piazza Navona’).
In England, Canaletto depicts the Thames, Westminster, the country mansions. A canvas he painted in 1751, ‘Representation of Chelsea College, Ranelagh House, and the River Thames’, successively cut in two parts (one of which is in Cuba), is reconstructed here for the first time. We can admire also ‘Windsor Castle’, his most famous painting of the English period. His representations of Gothic castles are useful documents as they show these mansions as they were before successive restorations.
The last period of Canaletto in Venice, still very inventive and prolific, as tourism flourished again, include some magnificent vertical views of St Mark’s square, where we can linger at details. We see for the first time, the representation of Café’ Florian, and exquisite descriptions of everyday Venetian life.
From this period some of his most brilliant drawings, such as ‘Campo san Giacometo’, and the ‘Giants’ Staircase’.
In 1768 Canaletto died almost poor in the magnificent city where he was born and that he had lovingly depicted during his entire career.
Canaletto exhibition at Palazzo Braschi in Rome goes on from April 11th until August 19th, 2018