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Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)

Venice: The Piazza, looking west c.1723-4

Pen and ink, over traces of free pencil | 18.0 x 23.1 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 907434

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  • A drawing of Piazza San Marco in Venice. On the left is the Procuratie Nuove, in the centre is the later-destroyed church of San Geminiano, and beyond the campanile of the church of San Moise. In the right foreground is a temporary stage or platform.

    To the left, in steep perspective loosely constructed with ruled lines, are the civil offices of the Procuratie Nuove. The building had been planned by Jacopo Sansovino to continue the design of the Libreria, but had not been begun by his death in 1570. Vincenzo Scamozzi amended Sansovino's designs and commenced the building in 1582, but by Scamozzi's own death in 1616 only the ten eastern bays had been completed. Work was continued by Marco Carità and Baldassare Longhena, and was finally completed around 1660. The Procuratie extended around the south-west corner of the Piazza, consisting of three storeys on their southern range (as today) but only two on the western range, to harmonise with the contiguous church of San Geminiano, seen here at lower right. The ancient church had been moved in the late twelfth century to form the western end of the Piazza, and was entirely rebuilt by Sansovino in the sixteenth century. The top of the fourteenth-century belltower of San Moisè projects over the top of Procuratie Nuove; today the belltower is mostly hidden by the cold neoclassical attic storey of the Ala Napoleonica, intended as a palace for Napoleon, for which the whole of the west range of the Piazza was demolished in 1807-10.

    The painting of the same scene differs in important respects from the drawing (Royal Collection, RCIN 405935). It appears to take a viewpoint further to the east, close to San Marco, thus moving out of the shadow of the Procuratie and Campanile and flooding the foreground with sunlight. Canaletto effected this shift in viewpoint by painting in a flagpole to the right, and the Loggetta and part of the Campanile to the left; the roof-line of the Procuratie shows plainly through the paint of the Campanile. These additions were presumably made as the composition began to appear excessively simple when scaled up to the large canvas. The north-west corner of the Piazza is visible, near which stands the temporary stage seen here in the right foreground. Canaletto diminished the height of the belltower of San Moisè, and introduced another belltower to the right (possibly that of Santo Stefano, which actually lies 500 metres west of the Piazza).

    Catalogue entry adapted from Canaletto in Venice, London, 2005

    Purchased by George III from Consul Joseph Smith, 1762

  • Medium and techniques

    Pen and ink, over traces of free pencil


    18.0 x 23.1 cm (sheet of paper)