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

The Riva degli Schiavoni

Oil on canvas, 46 x 63 cm
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

This painting belongs to a group of seven views from the harbour side of Venice, all of them in the neighbourhood of the Molo or of the Punta della Dogana at the mouth of the Grand Canal. Nothing is known about the individual responsible for commissioning the series. All of the compositions are adaptations of somewhat older and more ambitious works. However, there is a strong stylistic unity.

At the end of the 1720s there was a demand for Canaletto's topographical work on the part of prosperous English tourists. In response to this situation Canaletto's work underwent great changes. The size of his paintings decreased, making them easier to ship. However, the atmosphere also changed. Well-bred tourists wanted to have a reminder of Venice not as a stage decoration with ghost-like shadows and sultry skies, but as the ideal Mediterranean city. They admired attractive, beautiful and above all recognizable buildings, harmoniously arranged and painted in soft colours under a bright blue sky with the merest hint of a white cloud.

Between 1727 and 1730 Canaletto became a master at this new genre, one he was largely responsible for creating. He no longer prepared the canvases with a reddish-brown but with a beige or a light grey ground. The paint was further diluted and more smoothly applied, with only a couple of perfectly measured, thickly applied strokes for clouds and figures. With the help of his assistants, Canaletto produced hundreds of paintings of this type, often in pairs, sometimes in series of twenty or more. Although the quality of the routine production slowly but surely declined in the course of the 1730s, Canaletto nevertheless also painted a number of works of very high quality in these years. The present painting is a good example of this kind of work made for the new tourist market.

This view is taken near San Biagio, looking toward the west along the Riva degli Schiavoni. From right to left we see the corner of the present-day Museo Storico Navale, a building on the corner of the Rio dell'Arsenale that has since been demolished, a warehouse, the campanili of San Giovanni in Bragora and San Giorgio dei Greci, the Molo with the Ducal Palace and the Campanile of San Marco and, behind the masts, Santa Maria della Salute. On the far left a small point of the island San Giorgio Maggiore can just be discerned. The Bacino di San Marco is filled with a variety of boats, including two with a lateen sail and a three-master. The lines directed toward the vanishing point of the footpath on the right invite the spectator to cross the bridge together with the pedestrians and to walk further along the quay. Thus the eye is led toward the horizon and back over the boats to the foreground.