Lines and Colors art blog

Eye Candy for Today: Canaletto’s Porta Portello, Padua

The Porta Portello, Padua; Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal)
The Porta Portello, Padua; Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal)

Another architectural tour-de-force by the 18th century Italian master Canaletto – times two. The painting above in the top six images is in the National Gallery of Art, DC.

In the bottom four images is another version, with the same perspective but with different figures and harsher light, that is in the Museo Thussen – Bornemisza in Madrid.

There’s some question about the dating of the paintings; both could have been painted around the time of his documented trip to the city of Padua around 1740 or 1741, but some put the second painting almost twenty years later — perhaps as a “greatest hits” request from a patron. The Porta Portello is the main entrance to Padua for those traveling, like Canaletto, from Venice.

Even more visually entrancing than either painting is a preliminary ink and wash drawing that was a subject of a previous Lines and Colors post. It has been reliably dated around the time of the first painting, but presumably could have been used for both.

In both paintings, I love the contrast between Canaletto’s masterful painting of the architectural elements and his abbreviated shorthand notation for figures and things like grass texture and the surface of water. (Gotta love those little water squiggles!)


11 responses to “Eye Candy for Today: Canaletto’s Porta Portello, Padua”

  1. I don’t want to overdo it …but… the last four postings have been mind-blowingly fantastic, and given me hours of pleasure (including following the links). Thank you very much, Charley.

    1. Thanks, John. I appreciate it, and I appreciate knowing you’re following the links. I’m sometimes surprised when I find many readers don’t.

  2. I was ogling that tricky brushwork, and suddenly thought –Leyendecker! A distant relation, who knew? Heh heh

    1. Ha! Fun thought. Actually, it may be interesting to note that J.C. Leyendecker did have classical training in the European Academic tradition; he studied in Paris at the Académie Julian when William Bouguereau was its director.

  3. Richard Sica Avatar
    Richard Sica

    Hi Charley
    Wonderful choice by a great painter. I assume that he used some sort of camera obscura or other photo like device to aid in the construction of the picture. It is self evident that he was a master of perspective but some of those blobs and dashes of paint seem similar to the tiny blobs of light that appear in Vermeer’s work. Also the way the light is handled flat and un-modeled plus the precise perfection of the buildings details.
    He must have made his detailed drawings and color notations in front of the scene with some photo device then worked up the finished work in the studio.

    1. Thanks, Richard. I’m sure a lot of painters used whatever optical aids they felt could help them achieve their desired final image. It’s interesting to speculate about lens-like optical effects, but I’m reserved about drawing conclusions about what elements in a work might indicate the use of devices like a camera obscura or camera lucida. If you’ve ever tried to use devices like that, they’re actually pretty awkward for extensive use. I think the most common optical aid for complex perspective drawing (other than linear geometric perspective construction) would have been a viewfinder grid.

  4. What a delicious painting on view at the West Building, Main Floor, Gallery 30. Must go there (e.g. Located between 3rd and 9th Streets along Constitution Avenue NW Washington, DC 20001) next Summer as today in pseudoscience is called Blue Monday.
    Thank you so much, Charley!

  5. The painting is also known as The Brenta Canal at Padua (and the Porta Portello). Giovanni Antonio Canal is the son of painter Bernardo Canal and Artemesia Barbieri.
    “Irritated by the immodesty of the playwrights he forswore the theatre to devote himself entirely ‘al naturale’”
    Web Gallery of Art is i.a. the source of info, created by Emil Krén and Daniel Marx at

  6. I never tire of admiring Caneletto’s architectural accuracy, done in a way that is enjoyable and not pedantic. Less well known is that produced a series of etchings with similar qualities.
    Thanks for the post!

    1. Thanks, James. You make a good point about Canaletto’s etchings; I should make a point of highlighting some of them.