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.