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A showcase of the extraordinary collection of Canaletto's drawings from the Royal Collection.


Venice: Campo Santa Maria Formosa


RCIN 907478

A drawing of Campo Santa Maria Formosa in Venice. In the centre of the composition is the church of Santa Maria Formosa and its belltower. On the left hand side of the square is Palazzo Donà, and directly to the left of the church is Palazzo Malipiero Trevisan. On the right of the square is Palazzo Ruzzini. There is a well in the centre of the square.

The church of Santa Maria Formosa was, according to tradition, founded in the seventh century on the site of a vision of a particularly beautiful Madonna; hence Formosa, in the sense of ‘shapely’. The church was rebuilt after 1492 to the designs of Mauro Codussi, on the plan of a Greek cross with arms of equal length. Unusually, it has two façades, the main entrance facing the rio (out of sight beyond the bell tower in this view, which is drawn too slender), and a ponderous façade added to the north transept at the start of the seventeenth century, seen here looking on to the Campo. Canaletto has taken a very wide-angle view, ostensibly from a first-floor window in the Palazzo Ruzzini in the northern corner of the Campo. To the left in shadow are the gothic façades of the complex Palazzo Donà; in the distance, seen square on, is the Renaissance Palazzo Malpiero Trevisan, now disfigured by a roof extension. Little else has changed to this day.

Both Carlevarijs and Lovisa depicted this view in their collections of engravings of 1703 and c.1720, but Canaletto did not depend on their prints, and constructed the drawing from a series of three openings in the Sketchbook. Canaletto painted the composition several times, adjusting the perspectives, lighting and figures on each occasion; what was probably the first version, at Woburn Abbey, renders the buildings to the left in steeper perspective. A later version (private collection) was engraved by Visentini for the Prospectus of 1742. A replica of the drawing in Darmstadt (AE 2210) by Bellotto agrees in all details except the sky. Uniquely, a second version by Canaletto is also in the Royal Collection (RL 7479), replicating the architecture with only small differences, such as the shading of the windows to the right and the shorthand for the rooftiles, but differing entirely in the figures, and drawn with a sharper pen in a darker ink.

Catalogue entry adapted from Canaletto in Venice, London, 2005

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