(b. 1697, Venezia, d. 1768, Venezia)
The Piazzetta, Looking toward the Clock Tower1726-28
Oil on canvas, 172 x 135 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor
The painting forms part of a series of six views of the Piazza San Marco and the Piazzetta, commissioned by Canaletto's most important patron, Consul Joseph Smith. The series was the first commission that Smith gave Canaletto and is fairly early in date, pre-1730. The scale of the six paintings is large and the style notable for the bold treatment of the light; the free handling of the figures, and the dramatic viewpoint. Presumably Smith ordered the paintings for a specific room in the Palazzo Mangilli-Valmarana on the Grand Canal where he lived, but exactly how they were displayed is not known. The collection formed by Consul Smith was sold to George III in 1762.
The buildings in this view of the Piazzetta can be readily identified. The Biblioteca Marciana designed by Jacopo Sansovino is on the left with the Campanile and Loggetta visible immediately behind. Across the Piazza is the Torre dell'Orologio with the east end of the Procuratie Vecchie extending to the left and the beginning of the Campo San Basso to the right. The façade of the Basilica di San Marco dominates the right side of the picture together with the column of San Teodoro. The figure in red, gesticulating in the foreground just to the left of centre, is a Procurator who appears to be attended by a secretary or notary. Once the buildings are identified, the degree to which Canaletto has conflated two separate viewpoints and altered the proportions in order to achieve a unified composition becomes apparent. Thus, the height of the Campanile is exaggerated and the projected distance between the viewer and the Torre dell'Orologio lengthened. Other changes include the positioning of the flagpoles and the column of San Teodoro. Most of these topographical adjustments (but not the positioning of the flagpoles) are apparent in the preparatory drawing (Royal Library, Windsor Castle), which may have been made by the artist for discussion with his patron.