Canaletto and his Perspectives of Venice
Canaletto (1697-1768) played a large role in depicting Venetian lifestyles and cityscapes through his use of light, color, and detail in his eighteenth-century paintings and drawings. He was considered one of the first Venetian vedutisti, or view painters, following the ground-breaking example of Luca Carlevarijs (1663-1730). Canaletto is most notably recognized for his creative interpretations of his native city, otherwise known as capricci. When he was painting particular views, he frequently made changes, adding or omitting buildings, altering proportions, or creating shadows that did not exist; he even adjusted the size and shape of the Grand Canal. He thus remodeled the actual cityscape in his paintings and created a new reality, but the postcard-like quality of his views persuades the spectator that they were painted as seen.
One example of Canaletto’s creative view-painting is Grand Canal: the Rialto Bridge from the North (Fig. 1), which reveals that he combined two separate views into one painting. If one stands on one of the landing stages where Canaletto must have placed himself to paint this work, only the end wall of the Fabbriche, seen at the right of the painting, would be visible to the right of the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi, shown to the left of the Fabbriche Vecchie. One block away, there is another landing stage where one can see the Fabbriche Vecchie, but only the side wall of the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi. However, Canaletto sketched the scene so that both the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi and Fabbriche Vecchie were visible from one viewpoint, which is not possible. This means that the right-hand-side of the Grand Canal was completed separately and combined into one view.
For my paper, I would like to focus on Canaletto’s celebration of Venice and its culture by examining several sets of his drawings and paintings that show different parts of the city. I will compare the images to the actual views and to each other, discussing their similarities and differences in content and style. I will begin by studying briefly the techniques and styles of a couple of view painters who influenced Canaletto, including Gaspar van Wittel (1653-1736) and Carlevarijs, and will then discuss Canaletto’s own approach to painting city views. Finally, I will elaborate on his capricci, pointing out what makes them particularly distinctive. Canaletto’s beautiful views of his native city played a critical role in the development of the new tradition of vedute, and his works came to be regarded as the supreme examples of a genre that combined reality with some elements of fantasy.