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

Rome: The Arch of Constantine

Oil on canvas, 181,5 x 103 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor

This is one of a series of five impressive paintings of Roman subjects that Canaletto executed for Joseph Smith. It is not entirely clear whether they were based on a new visit to Rome, or sketches the artist had made there in 1720. It is possible that he could additionally have been inspired by prints of Roman subjects in Smith's collection.

The arch was built by the Emperor Constantine in the fourth century, to commemorate his victory over Maxentius. The view is playfully manipulated; the friezes and inscriptions he chose to depict are those which can be seen on the north side, but it is painted as though looked at from the south. Through it can be seen the church of San Pietro in Vincoli, and to the right the edge of the Colosseum. The main group of figures in the foreground, one of whom points with his stick, are probably Grand Tourists who have come to admire the ancient glories of the city.

The seated figure at the left, who has beside him a portfolio and ruler and is either writing or drawing, may well be intended as a self-portrait. This is particularly suggested by the figure's proximity to Canaletto's rather grand inscription asserting his authorship and the date of the painting, in a manner that replicates the carvings on the arch.