The most celebrated view painter of eighteenth-century Venice, Canaletto was particularly popular with British visitors to the city. This wonderfully fresh and well-preserved canvas shows the square of San Marco. The windows of the bell tower are fewer in number than in actuality, and the flagstaffs are too tall, but otherwise Canaletto took few liberties with the topography.
Piazza San Marco, the principal square of Venice, was a subject Canaletto painted at least a dozen times in the 1720s and 1730s (Fahy 2005, pp. 59–60). The basilica of Saint Mark’s, built and rebuilt over three centuries beginning in the year 830, stands at the east end of the square. To the right rises the Campanile, begun in the ninth century and rebuilt after it collapsed in 1902. Farther to the right is a glimpse of the Doges’ Palace. The long building on the left, running along the north side of the square, is the Procuratie Vecchie, erected in 1514, which served as the residence for the nine Procurators of San Marco, the chief magistrates of the Republic of Venice. Facing it, on the south side of the square, is the Procuratie Nuove, built between 1580 and 1640 by Palladio’s pupil Vincenzo Scamozzi (1552–1616).
Canaletto's vantage point for this bird's-eye view was a window on an upper floor of the Procuratie Vecchie, slightly to the north of the center line of the piazza, where the Procuratie abutted San Geminiano, the small church that was demolished in 1807 to make way for the Napoleonic wing of the Palazzo Reale. A virtually identical view (MMA 57.618) appears in Le fabriche, e vedute di Venetia, an album of 104 etchings by Luca Carlevaris (1663–1730), which was published in 1703. While the foreshortening of the architecture is the same in both scenes, the cast shadows in the etching indicate early morning.
This painting dates from the late 1720s. Its crisp style and blond tonality followed the ominous atmosphere of Canaletto’s large view now in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, which can be dated precisely because it shows the piazza only partly covered with the stone paving that was laid between 1725 and 1727. In the MMA picture, the pavement, with its white geometric pattern, is complete. It thus predates views of the piazza in the series of twenty-four Canalettos in the collection of the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey, of the mid-1730s, as well as those in the set of eight canvases in the Fitzwilliam collection at Milton Park. Unlike most of Canaletto’s views of the piazza, the MMA painting does not seem to have had a pendant or to have formed part of a series.
[2017; adapted from Fahy 2005]
by descent to W. G. Hoffmann, Berlin (until 1939; sold to Colnaghi); [Colnaghi, London, 1939–40; sold to Barlow]; Robert (later Sir Robert) Barlow, Wendover, Buckinghamshire (from 1940); his widow, Lady Barlow, Wendover; by family descent (until 1988; sold to Wengraf); [Newhouse Galleries, New York, and Alex Wengraf Ltd., London, 1988; sold to MMA]
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Canaletto," October 30, 1989–January 21, 1990, no. 27.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Philippe de Montebello Years: Curators Celebrate Three Decades of Acquisitions," October 24, 2008–February 1, 2009, online catalogue.
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT, BY TERMS OF ITS ACQUISITION BY THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.
W. G. Constable. Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697–1768. Oxford, 1962, vol. 1, pl. 11; vol. 2, p. 186, no. 2, notes that the picture was purchased for W. G. Hoffmann's grandfather by Wilhelm Bode and that it was exhibited at Colnaghi in 1939; relates it stylistically to a group of four pictures in the Pillow collection, Montreal, painted in 1725 and 1726, observing, however, that "tone and colour indicate that it is some years later".
Lionello Puppi inThe Complete Paintings of Canaletto. New York, 1968, p. 98, no. 84B.
W. G. Constable. Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697–1768. Ed. J. G. Links. 2nd ed. Oxford, 1976, vol. 1, pl. 11; vol. 2, p. 188, no. 2.
André Corboz. Canaletto: una Venezia immaginaria. Milan, 1985, vol. 2, p. 592, no. P97, ill.
Katharine Baetjer and J. G. Links. Canaletto. Exh. cat., The Metropolitan Museum of Art. New York, 1989, pp. 130–31, no. 27, ill. (color), suggest a date in the late 1720s and compare it to the larger and earlier view in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, which shows the piazza only partly paved with stone, and is on that account dated in or about 1723; observe that the windows of the campanile are fewer in number and more widely spaced than in reality, and that the flagstaffs are too tall, but that otherwise the artist took few, if any, liberties with the topography; note that it is not engraved and there is no evidence of a pendant.
Katharine Baetjer in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1988–1989." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 47 (Fall 1989), pp. 32–33, ill. (color), notes that it is the first picture of the piazza to depict Andrea Tirali's white geometric pavement, completed in 1723; dates the painting on stylistic grounds closer to 1730, pointing out the "loose, ragged brushwork and the high key".
Homan Potterton. "New York: Canaletto." Burlington Magazine 132 (January 1990), pp. 63–64, ill.
Mahonri Sharp Young. "Letter from the U.S.A: The Look of Venice." Apollo 131 (February 1990), p. 119, fig. 1 (detail).
Andrea Kirsh and Rustin S. Levenson. Seeing Through Paintings: Physical Examination in Art Historical Studies. New Haven, 2000, p. 262.
Roberto Contini. The Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection: Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Italian Painting. London, 2002, p. 259, under no. 54, calls it a replica of the version in the collection of the Duke of Bedford.
Nicole Hartje inBlick auf den Canal Grande: Venedig und die Sammlung des Berliner Kaufmanns Sigismund Streit. Exh. cat., Gemäldegalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Berlin, 2002, fig. 66, under no. 17, illustrates this picture by mistake for the Fogg version.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 59–61, no. 15, ill. (color), dates it to the late 1720s; lists fifteen additional versions of the composition.
Canaletto Guardi: Les deux maîtres de Venise. Ed. Bozena Anna Kowalczyk. Exh. cat., Musée Jacquemart-André. Brussels, 2012, p. 90, under no. 13, dates it 1728.
Old Master & British Paintings: Evening Sale. Sotheby's, London. December 3, 2014, pp. 50, 52, fig. 2 (color), under no. 11.
Kathryn Calley Galitz. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Masterpiece Paintings. New York, 2016, pp. 297, 422, 431, no. 273, ill. pp. 258, 297 (color).