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

San Giacomo di Rialto

Oil on canvas, 95,5 x 117 cm
Gemäldegalerie, Dresden

The colourful and picturesque San Giacomo di Rialto, also called San Giacometto, is considered by Venetians to be the city's oldest church. Though its present appearance dates from 1601, the original, small church was erected in the eleventh or twelfth century for the merchants trading on the market square near Rialto. The famous clock dates from 1401. The stucco and the medieval portico extend into the adjacent house, giving the church an unusually asymmetrical appearance.

To judge from the commercial success of Carlevaris's print series Le Fabriche, e vedute di Venetia of 1703, a lively interest existed in what might be described as portraits of actual buildings and in the more broadly conceived townscapes. However, Canaletto only began producing work in this genre in the 1730s, at the instigation of English patrons. Of his early work this painting comes closest to being an actual portrait of a building, although the church is set in a somewhat more spacious architectural scene. In this and other respects as well the painting is very reminiscent of the Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the Scuola di San Marco and the Grand Canal near Santa Maria delta Carità, made for Stefano Conti. For instance, the most important building is not centred. There is a strong contrast between the heavily shaded area on the right and the brightly lit façade of the small church, which is emphasized as a result.

Canaletto made a precise graphite or chalk drawing of the church using a ruler and compass in order to achieve as accurate a likeness as possible. The brushwork is loose but careful, with particular attention given to subtle nuances in the coloured surfaces, such as the reddish-ochre stucco on the church façade.

It is remarkable that Canaletto devoted so much attention in his early work to Venetian ecclesiastical architecture of the Middle Ages and Renaissance in particular, and so little to the more modern architecture of his own day. It was only in the 1730s that he turned to contemporary architecture, and this thematic shift runs parallel to and may also be connected with a fundamental change of style.