(b. 1663, Udine, d. 1730, Venezia)
The Reception of Cardinal César d'Estrées1701
Oil on canvas, 130 x 260 cm
With the help of central perspective, the artist leads the eye of the spectator from the Ducal Palace, over the Molo to the Fonteghetto della Farina, where the entrance to the Grand Canal is marked by the silhouette of Santa Maria della Salute and the Punta della Dogana. Further to the left, behind a throng of gondolas and other boats, we can see the hazy profile of the Giudecca.
Owing to the many figures in the foreground, the canvas seems to transcend the genre of the veduta. The schooner behind the gondolas in the left foreground has just fired a salute. A group of dignitaries crosses the Molo in the direction of the Ducal Palace, among them Procurators recognizable by their red robes. A curious crowd watches the procession; it includes many figures also found in Carlevaris's lively oil studies of daily life in the Serenissima.
Carlevaris is not the inventor of this veduta: long before, in the 1660s to be precise, the French artist Israel Silvestre made a print of roughly the same view. The Venetian master is undoubtedly responsible for the sense of grandeur about the scene, achieved by raising the vantage point and adding the panorama on the left. Carlevaris often employed this device - especially to represent diplomatic receptions, for which he was famous - shifting the point of view slightly each time. He situated these events in front of the Ducal Palace, where the newly appointed ambassadors presented their credentials to the Doge and Senate, the climax of a ceremony that lasted altogether several days. The Entry of the Earl of Manchester into the Doge's Palace, which the Earl himself commissioned in 1707, is one of the masters best-known works in this series and also one of his two earliest veduta.
The Reception of Cardinal César d'Estrées represents a similar event, so similar, in fact, that until recently this canvas was assumed to be an autograph variant of the English reception. Judging from the staffage, however, it was not a repetition. Unlike the Entry of the Earl of Manchester a French, not an English mission is shown here, witness the fleur-de-lis on the Ambassador's gondolas in the left foreground. Furthermore the composition draws attention to the prelate in the midst of the crowd; since only one French ambassador to Venice held an ecclesiastical office - Cardinal d'Estrées - the reception must be his.
César d'Estrées (16281714), a bishop of Laon who was created cardinal in 1672, was a seasoned diplomat. In January 1701 he was sent to Mantua and Venice to convince them to deny the imperial army passage to Milan despite their neutrality on the issue of the Spanish succession. D'Estrées' mission proved fruitless inasmuch as the Republic refused to alter its position; in April the prelate left empty-handed for Naples to join the Spanish king. Carlevaris may have received and executed the commission during the three months the Cardinal spent in Venice or shortly thereafter. Though it is still unclear whether Venice or the diplomat himself took the initiative, the latter possibility seems most likely, given the fact that most of Carlevaris's paintings of diplomatic receptions were prompted by the ambassadors involved.
The scarcity of information about Carlevaris's work prior to 1703, the year of publication of his famous series of engravings, Le Fabriche, e Vedute di Venetia, accounts for the importance of this painting. A handful of landscapes and several capricci are all that is known of his oeuvre before then. His first documented commission for painted vedute only dates from 1705, while the two earliest, securely dateable works in this category were executed two years later. The Reception of Cardinal d'Estreés is thus probably the first indication of Carlevaris's competence in this genre; more importantly, however, it is arguably the prototype of the eighteenth-century veduta.