BELLOTTO, Bernardo
(b. 1720, Venezia, d. 1780, Warszawa)

View of Turin near the Royal Palace

Oil on canvas, 129,5 x 174 cm
Galleria Sabauda, Turin

Turin is seen here from an unusual vantage point. The spectator is situated somewhere on the ramparts of one of the lunettes near the royal palace and looks toward the west, obliquely along the moat which was part of the fortifications. This lunette is surrounded by earthworks, enclosing an area we see as the flat meadow on the right. The palace garden is situated on the bastion to the left of the moat, with the tower called 'il Garritone' on the left in the corner. Behind the main building of the palace, which is shaded, rises the opulent dome of the chapel of San Sidone; and the tower of the Cathedral soars above its western wing. The old city with its multitude of towers is visible beyond the palace complex to the right, while further into the distance we see the Alps, their tallest peaks capped with snow.

The scene is full of human activity. Scaffolding has been erected against the retaining wall for the masons who are repairing it and who have their mortar pit and their supply of bricks in the meadow on the opposite side of the moat. The farmer's cart has apparently brought material. We also see women doing their washing. A dignified and elegantly dressed gentleman - a courtier or perhaps the King himself - draws his companion's attention to the restoration work in progress.

Both in its breadth and depth the scene is divided in two by the flat, brightly lit wing of the palace, which runs parallel to the image surface. The two parts are connected by the moat which is seen in a strong perspective. Bellotto apparently borrowed this unrelenting diagonal, which leads the eye of the beholder into the depth, from his teacher Canaletto.

The painter had to bring a good deal of ingenuity to bear on this composition, given that it was not possible to see this view from one vantage point. From a viewpoint directly opposite the rampart of the fortification Bellotto could see the Garritone to his left, but he almost certainly drew the view of the palace itself, sitting in or near this tower. Furthermore he 'straightened' the façade of the western wing. There is another curious feature of the three-dimensionality evoked in this work. On the one hand the strong linear perspective induces our eye to jump some tens of kilometres towards the Alps, on the other, all the buildings, even far away into the distance, have been represented with equal sharpness, as if by the zoom-lens of a camera. This effect is present in all panorama paintings by Bellotto. It could be explained by a need to convey a maximum of topographical information and precision. It is not known whether Bellotto made individual detailed sketches of the remoter buildings on the spot, or whether he studied them with the aid of a telescope-like optical instrument.

The painting has a pendant which represents the old bridge over the Po in Turin (also in Galleria Sabauda, Turin). Both canvases were commissioned by Carlo Emmanuele III, King of Sardinia and Duke of Savoy. They were Bellotto's first royal commissions, and he accordingly signed them both with his name and surname.