Mobile menu
Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)

Venice: The Piazzetta, looking towards San Giorgio Maggiore c.1723-4

Pen and ink, over some free pencil | 23.2 x 17.8 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 907446

Your share link is...


  • A drawing of the Piazzetta in Venice. On the left are the final three bays of the west facade of the Palazzo Ducale. On the right is the column of San Marco. Between the two, across the canal, is the church of San Giorgio Maggiore. Several ships are moored at the Molo.

    Canaletto has drawn the view from a point in the middle of the Piazzetta, looking across the Bacino. The southernmost three arcades of the Palazzo Ducale are included to the left; above them should be six openings on the first floor (Canaletto has drawn five) and one large window and two small round openings in the principal floor. That single large window would have been pictorially oppressive, so Canaletto substituted two smaller windows to break up the expanse of pink and white patterned wall. From the corner of the Palazzo protrudes a winch, omitted in the painting. The column of the lion is correctly located, though rather too massive. In the distance is the church of San Giorgio Maggiore, stretched so that its portico is seen to the right of the column. The top of the belltower of San Giorgio was changed from a tall pyramid to an onion shape during building works begun in June 1726 and completed in 1728; it was returned to the current pyramidal shape later in the eighteenth century. This might provide evidence for a date for the drawing, but it is not known exactly when the cusp itself was dismantled, and Canaletto could easily have been working from memory or earlier notes.

    Canaletto reversed the direction of the sunlight in the painting (Royal Collection, RCIN 401036) - here the morning sun leaves the façade of the Palazzo in shadow, whereas in the painting the Palazzo is lit by an afternoon sun, and the shadows of the column and Libreria fall across the foreground. A drawing in the Ashmolean Museum, less boldly but no more tidily drawn, shows essentially the same composition, with the portico of San Giorgio to the left of the column (in which the Oxford drawing agrees with the painting), and three windows in the principal floor of the Palazzo Ducale. It is hard to discern any difference in purpose between the Oxford and Windsor drawings, and both may have served as trials for the composition of the painting.

    The composition appears in the Venice Sketchbook, though given the probable date of the project it is doubtful that the sketch is preparatory for this work, as most of the Sketchbook seems to date from around 1730.

    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 some free pencil


    23.2 x 17.8 cm (sheet of paper)