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Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)

The Piazzetta looking north towards the Torre dell’Orologio c.1723-24

Oil on canvas | 172.8 x 135.2 cm | RCIN 405074

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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 outstanding group of paintings, prints and drawings 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. 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 and the changes made during the course of painting suggest that the balance and effect of the whole was important to both of them. This work can also be considered as a pendant to RCIN 405073. This pair is the latest in date of the series. The view is to the north, with the corner of the Libreria shown at the left, with the Campanile rising above it. In the centre distance is the Torre dell’Orologio with the three flag poles to the left, and at the right, S. Marco and part of the column of S. Teodoro. In the foreground is a red-gowned figure of a Procurator (one of nine senior officials in the Republic), with an attending clerk and other figures. The presence of the Procurator is no doubt chiefly for pictorial effect, but the Doges’ Palace, the seat of government, lies to the right just outside the picture area and the Zecca, the state mint, comparably to the left. 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’.