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Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)

The Arch of Titus 1742

Oil on canvas | 192.2 x 106.5 cm | RCIN 401002

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This painting is one of a unique group of five large upright views of Rome, depicting the major sights of the ancient city (RCIN 401002, RCIN 400700, RCIN 400713, RCIN 400524, RCIN 400714). Unusually for Canaletto, all the works are signed and dated prominently in the foreground. It is thought that the paintings formed a special commission for Canaletto’s great friend and patron Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice, who sold his outstanding group of paintings, prints and drawings to George III. Their tall narrow format suggests that the paintings were originally designed for a specific location, probably decorating a room within Smith’s palace on the Grand Canal, however the cycle does not fall into an obvious arrangement. Acquired by George III in 1762, the paintings were hung in English frames in the Entrance Hall of Buckingham House, alongside the Venetian views. The works are of high competence, yet are not entirely typical of Canaletto. While Canaletto did visit Rome around 1720, it is unlikely that he made a return journey in the 1740s. Therefore, it is generally supposed that this painting, and the rest of the cycle, is based upon drawings made by Canaletto’s nephew, Bernardo Bellotto (1720-1780), who entered his studio in the mid-1730s and had been in Rome during the relevant period. This indebtedness to Bellotto explains the treatment of the figures, the tendency towards heavy shadows, and the less-convincing three-dimensionality of the pictures, atypical of the style of Canaletto. This painting depicts the Arch of Titus, which stands at the south-eastern end of the Forum at the head of the Sacred Way. It is the oldest of the great Roman triumphal arches, and was erected in AD 81 to commemorate the capture of Jerusalem by the Emperor Titus. It is being admired by a group of three gentlemen ‘Grand Tourists’, with their guide or ‘cicerone’. The wall of the sixteenth-century Farnese Gardens is visible through the arch on the left, and in the distance are the ruins of the temple of Castor and Pollux. Signed and dated: ANT. CANAL / ANNO MDCCXLII