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

Pirna Seen from the Harbour Town

Oil on canvas, 136 x 237 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

After the large vedute of Dresden, the royal capital, Bellotto turned his attention to the smaller town of Pirna, further up the Elbe, with the royal castle of Sonnenstein rising magnificently above it. The artist's eleven views of Pirna, taken from greatly differing angles (but always showing Sonnenstein Castle), number among his most beautiful works.

The foreground of this veduta shows the small harbour at Pirna, which opens onto the Elbe. The pool was only used to store river-barges in winter; ships loaded with goods would moor downriver, beyond the customs house, on the corner to the far right, which stands to this day. The veduta shows few of the town's better-known buildings: the castle rises sublimely above it, and the small guardhouses can clearly be seen on the tips of the bastions.

The main fascination of this view, however, lies in the row of small, simple buildings set parallel to the picture plane, some half-timbered, some in plain masonry, but all shown fairly close up with their sheds and outhouses, washing and stacked wood. Bellotto performs a daring artistic feat by casting these shabby buildings, so central to the composition, totally in shadow. Dutch painting of the seventeenth century frequently used such effects.

Indeed, Bellotto underlines here the 'Dutch' character of his Pirna vedute by adding elements typical of genre painting: laundry is being hung out to dry in the foreground, using a gnarled willow behind a hut as a clothes-pole. Further to the right, a boat is landing, and the boatman is in the process of casting a rope to some men ashore. To the far left, however, where the veduta brings the castle, church and wooden shacks tightly together, a herdsman has driven his cattle to drink in the shallow waters.