(b. 1697, Venezia, d. 1768, Venezia)
Venice: The Piazzetta Looking South-west towards S. Maria della Salute1725-30
Oil on canvas, 172,1 x 136,2 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor
The painting, together with five other views of the Piazza San Marco and the Piazzetta, forms part of a series commissioned from Canaletto by Consul Joseph Smith, who was the artist's most loyal patron. Smith, a merchant who lived in Venice, was not only an avid collector of Canaletto's work, but also arranged for the artist's paintings to be engraved and introduced him to potential clients. His collection, which included an incomparable group of paintings, drawings and prints by Canaletto, was sold to George III in 1762.
The early views of the Piazza San Marco and the Piazzetta, dating from before 1730, comprise four vertical compositions and two of horizontal format. Conceived as a series, it is almost certain that they were hung in one of the rooms in the Palazzo Mangilli-Valmarana on the Grand Canal where Smith lived. Only two of the paintings look out from the Piazzetta. The present example shows the view across the entrance to the Grand Canal with the Baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute, designed by Baldassare Longhena, and the Dogana in the background.
Canaletto has made several major adjustments in the disposition of the proportions of the buildings and other architectural motifs. The placing of the column of San Teodoro has been altered and its height has been increased. The steps of the bridge, the Ponte della Pescheria, by the Biblioteca Marciana have been brought forward. Similarly, on the other side of the Grand Canal, the Dogana is positioned in too close proximity to the Salute. Comparison with the preparatory drawing (Royal Library, Windsor Castle) shows that Canaletto originally included the column of San Marco on the left of the composition, but in the painting he omitted this in favour of a boat and instead inserted the column of San Teodoro by the Biblioteca Marciana. The balance of the composition is, therefore, heavily weighted to the right. These alterations to the spatial intervals and the amalgamation of viewpoints are highly characteristic of Canaletto's working methods. Such shifts of emphasis also confirm the likelihood that the paintings were made for a specific setting and that the compositions were closely discussed with the patron. Several changes (including the painting out of the column of San Marco) are visible to the naked eye. The paint is freely handled throughout, especially with regard to the figures in the lower right comer. The use made of mathematical instruments, mainly for drawing the outlines of buildings, is also apparent. The chiaroscural treatment of the light and the silhouetting of the buildings against the sky are the basis of the drama that characterises Canaletto's early style, especially in the paintings done for Consul Smith.