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Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)

Piazza San Marco looking West towards San Geminiano c.1723-4

Oil on canvas | 134.6 x 173.0 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 405935

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  • This painting forms one of a set of six views of the Piazza San Marco and the Piazzetta, at the heart of Venice. The series may have been Canaletto's earliest commission from Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice, who sold his works by the artist to George III in 1762. The set is all of the same size and, judging from the compositions and broad handling of paint, was probably intended to be incorporated symmetrically into the decoration of a single Venetian room. Four of the views are upright in format while this painting and its pendant (RCIN 405934) are horizontal; the pendant shows the opposite view of Piazza San Marco, in evening as opposed to morning light. A closely related preparatory drawing for each view (also in the Royal Collection) may have been the basis for discussion between artist and patron. The care taken over the composition of the architecture suggests that the balance and effect of the whole was important to both of them. This painting differs radically from its associated drawing (RCIN 907434). Significant changes in the painting process suggest that this, with its pair, was the first in the series, and that Canaletto later returned to revise it. Compared to the drawing, the viewpoint is closer to San Marco to enable the inclusion of the Campanile and Logetta on the left, which cast a dramatic shadow across the painting that contrasts with the sunlit areas, fitting better with the plan to have a significant weight on one side of each view in the series.

    Canaletto's training as a painter of theatrical scenery can be recognised in the creation of a clearly defined architectural space in subdued colours, animated by the thick, fluid brushwork and bright touches of colour in the figures. To the extreme left looms part of the Campanile and Sansovino's Logetta, with the Procuratie Nuove seen beyond. In the centre of the painting, opposite S. Marco, is the church of S. Geminiano, its white Istrian stone façade beautifully caught in the sun. Above the roof-tops appears the campanile of S. Moisè, on the left, and S. Stefano, on the right. In the right-hand corner of the Piazza, a temporary stage is set up on trestles for a performance. The poles inserted into the pavement in the foreground are presumably for tents or booths to be set up (visible in the pendant picture, RCIN 405934).

    The paintings appear to have arrived in London unframed; if so, this would strengthen the suggestion that they had been set into a room in one of Smith's houses in Italy. George III framed them in English 'Maratta' frames and hung them in the Entrance Hall of Buckingham House. When Horace Walpole saw them, he described them as 'bolder, stronger & far superior to his [Canaletto's] common Works'.

    Adapted from Canaletto & the Art of Venice, London 2017.

    Acquired in 1762 by George III from Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice (Italian List nos 63-4); recorded in the Hall of Buckingham Palace in 1790

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas


    134.6 x 173.0 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external)

    164.4 x 198.9 x 15.5 cm (frame, external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    Piazza S. Marco towards S. Geminiano