(b. 1697, Venezia, d. 1768, Venezia)
Santi Giovanni e Paolo and the Scuola di San Marco1726
Oil on canvas, 90,5 x 136 cm
This painting belongs to the second pair of the four paintings ordered by Stefano Conti in 1725 from Canaletto. The first pair of waterscapes were joined by two views of church squares, compositions that Canaletto was to re-use frequently. The popularity of the subject is hardly surprising. The Scuola di San Marco, decorated with paintings by Gentile Bellini and Carpaccio, the large Dominican church of SS Giovanni e Paolo, and Verrocchio's statue of the famous condottiere Bartolomeo Colleoni, were among the best-known monuments of the city; the combination of the three in one composition therefore made perfect sense. Carlevaris had included a similar view in his series of etchings entitled Le Fabriche, e Vedute di Venetia of 1704.
As is often the case with Canaletto's compositions, the original idea was Carlevaris's, but the older master had lacked the talent to do much with it. Here Canaletto opted for the traditional vanishing point on the central axis, which irresistibly draws the eye into the depth of the composition. In the exhibited work the vanishing point lies just behind the lefthand corner of the Scuola di San Marco; the massive structures that constitute the main subject of the picture are thus situated almost entirely to the right of the central axis. At first sight the façade of the Scuola seems to close off the scene in the distance, but the small bridges along its left flank guide the eye an astonishing distance from the city, as far as the trees on the island of San Michele.
To the left, the composition is balanced by the darkness of the Rio dei Mendicanti and the heavy shadow which hangs over the area behind it; a cloud outside the perimeter of the painting provides a pattern of light and darkness in the sky. Again, the sunlight is sultry rather than radiant.