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

View of the Bacino di San Marco (St Mark's Basin)

Oil on canvas, 54 x 71 cm
Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan

Canaletto is not only the main representative of Venetian view painting but also one of the major exponents of the Enlightment mentality. There is obviously an active rationalism behind his orderly approach to the laying out of this scene, with every object observed from reality but arranged in an almost numerical sequence. This reaction to Baroque irrationalism is part of the neoclassical movement popular in England, where in fact VCanaletto achieved great success.

Canaletto's vision of reality is constructed on a perspective system, with a highly dynamical balance marked by a complex "choral" harmony. His art transcends mere documentary; he is the inventor of a seemingly scientific visualization in which the content of the scene reveals its true nature. The best proof that his are works of controlled imagination identified with reality is to observe the townscape of Venice after having scanned Canaletto's paintings. The city appears under a new guise, with striking forms and rhythms. The stage-set perspective that served Canaletto as a point of departure was fundamentally a means of showing illusionistically something that was not there. He reversed this process in his painting: instead of applying theoretical perspective to an object in order to simulate another, he rediscovered an object's natural perspective.