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

The Stonemason's Yard (detail)

Oil on canvas
National Gallery, London

In many of Canaletto's depictions of Venice he shows the public face of the city - the façades of its grandest buildings and civic pageants. But in this painting, which some consider his masterpiece, the intention is quite different and altogether more subtle. Here we are allowed a view of a quiet square where work continues and the small dramas of everyday life are enacted, far from the tourist spectacles of the great Piazza and San Marco.

The Campo San Vidal is in the foreground which is cluttered with pieces of Istrian stone, and blocked by a workman's hut - all evidence of the stonemasons' toil for the nearby, although unseen, church of San Vidal. Potted plants are carefully placed on balconies, washing is strung between buildings, wisps of smoke emerge from a chimney, and the tools of the workmen are all carefully denned.

All of this anecdote and informality is contained within a composition of lucid and almost monumental structure. It is, though, by no means too rigidly imposed; variation is provided by the slanting shadows and rhythm of the skyline, as well as the constantly shifting textures and hues of the buildings - crumbling russet plaster, dark brick and honeyed timber.