WITTEL, Caspar Andriaans van
(b. 1653, Amersfoort, d. 1736, Roma)

The Molo Seen from the Bacino di San Marco

Oil on canvas, 98 x 174 cm
Museo del Prado, Madrid

The present canvas is the artist's earliest dated Venetian veduta.

The Molo is the small stretch of quay in front of the Piazzetta and the government buildings that line it, including the Zecca and the Library to the left, and to the right the Ducal Palace, with the state prison beyond the Ponte della Paglia de Prigioni. Behind the columns of St. Mark and Todaro, we see the Campanile, the basilica of San Marco itself and the Torre del'Orologio, which faces onto Piazza San Marco. A catalogue of the different kind of boats is virtually displayed on the Bacino: a galley is moored to the quay in front of the Ducal Palace, not far from two lateen rigged ships. In the right foreground is another ship, its stern to the left, sporting as its figure-head a lion. There is a good deal of traffic on the water. Behind the gondola transporting people to the right a peata can be seen, to the left another peata with livestock and behind it a bragozzo.

Van Wittel repeated this view more than once, sometimes on canvases as much as two metres wide. The composition has been varied by so many artists — including Canaletto and Guardi — that it became one of the most familiar views of Venice. The concept of a frontal view of the entrance of the Piazzetta is not Van Wittel's invention, but dates back to the sixteenth century. However, all previous versions of the theme show a much smaller segment of the quay. Van Wittel's view emphasizes the longitude of the Molo, that seems to stretch both left and right beyond the frame. This reference to the profile-view of Venice gives Van Wittel's composition an extraordinary tension, that is missing in the smaller versions.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 4 minutes):
Jacques Offenbach: Les Contes d'Hoffmann, Act IV, Barcarolle