(b. 1697, Venezia, d. 1768, Venezia)

Rio dei Mendicanti

Oil on canvas, 143 x 200 cm
Museo del Settecento Veneziano, Ca' Rezzonico, Venice

This is one of a set of four paintings by Canaletto, usually regarded as his earliest surviving vedute (view paintings) of Venice. They may have been executed for a Venetian patron, possibly as decoration for the portego of a Venetian palazzo, but are first recorded in the collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein in 1806. It is a work of such extraordinary accomplishment that it is hard to believe it was not preceded by other, now lost, studies by the artist.

Unlike other pictures from the same set, it shows a part of the city not found on the itinerary of most visitors. This is an area where Venetians live and work, rather than a well-known site. At the left the footway runs along before the church of San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti and the Scuola di San Marco. A wooden bridge spans the canal, while beyond it can be seen the Ponte del Cavallo. The artist has particularly exploited the colourful laundry hung out from the rooftops and windows at the right. There is a heavy, ponderous atmosphere, achieved through the dappled treatment of the silvery light and feathery brushstrokes. This approach, which in part anticipates the work of the Venetian painter Francesco Guardi (1712-93), is characteristic of Canaletto's earliest pictures.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 10 minutes):
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for recorder in A minor