Lines and Colors art blog

Giovanni Antonio Canal, known as Canaletto, is best known for his grand, sweeping views of his home city of Venice, intricately detailed and striking in their architectural fidelity.

Most famous are his depictions of large scale public events, like A Regatta on the Grand Canal (image above, top, with detail, second down). Less well known, but often considered superior, are his earlier works; many of which depict scenes in England, such as The Stonemason’s Yard (bottom two images).

Canaletto had a strong connection to England, visiting several times and counting English collectors among his foremost patrons.

The National Gallery in London has scheduled a major exhibition, Canaletto and His Rivals, for October of this year (13 October 2010 – 16 January 2011).

The gallery has on its website a number of Canalettos’ works from the permanent collection, and has posted them in zoomable versions. Much to my delight, these are not the frustrating kind of zoomable images, in which you must scroll around in a tiny window looking at minute sections of a painting, but the wonderful kind with an option to maximize the window (icon with four arrows at the lower right of the images), allowing you to zoom in on the paintings as large as the resolution of your monitor will allow.

This is a Good Thing, both because it’s wonderful to see Canaletto’s work large in your visual field, and because it’s fascinating to see how different, often surprisingly painterly and even graphic, his work is up close.

Canalletto had a workshop of assistants who contributed to many of his later works. It is also presumed that he may have used a camera obscura to help with his mastery of architectural detail and perspective. If so, he used it, like Vermeer, as a tool in the service of superbly painted works, not in a slavish or mechanical way.

Canaletto was unusual for painters of his day in that he is known to have painted on location, our of doors. He is also noted for his concern with capturing and accurately representing the effects of natural light, in both respects presaging the Impressionists 100 years later.


4 responses to “Canaletto”

  1. One can see in Canaletto’s work traces of his early training as a scenery painter: a cohesive, panoramic sense of the bigger picture and an exquisitely efficient and bold brushstroke.

    Caneletto’s nephew and student, Bernardo Bellotto, continued the tradition in similar fashion with views from around Europe, sometimes signing his more famous uncle’s name to his paintings. Today the nephew’s works are almost as valuable and can also be found on the web without much difficulty.

    1. Nice to know. Thanks, Daniel.

  2. Another important point about Canaletto’s nephew, Bernardo, is that his paintings of Warsaw were used to reconstruct the city after the Nazis obliterated it at the end of WWII.

    To quote part of an entry from the Transparent Language Polish Blog:

    “The destruction was so thorough that rebuilding it seemed an impossible task.

    Fortunately, a faceless government automaton remembered the old Bellotto Canaletto paintings. The artwork was retrieved from the Germans, who looted it during the war, and then used by Polish architects to bring the city of Warsaw back to its former glory. The super-precise paintings proved invaluable as a blueprint in reconstructing the Old Town. And the Castle. And the entire Warsaw panorama.

    After WW2, Warsaw wasn’t merely restored, simply because there was nothing left to restore, it was recreated from scratch, building by building.”

    1. Wonderful to know. Thanks, Don.