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Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)

The Arsenale c.1740-45

Pencil, pen and ink | 27.1 x 37.4 cm | RCIN 907477

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A drawing of of the entrance to the Arsenale in Venice. On the left is the arched pedestrian entry with its relief of a winged lion. In the centre is a wooden drawbridge. On the right is the oratory of the Madonna dell'Arsenale. The shipyards of the Arsenale (from the Arabic darsinâ’a, simply ‘workshops’) were founded probably in the twelfth century, and gradually expanded from a single dock to occupy, by the sixteenth century, a fortified site occupying 46 hectares (115 acres) of the east of the island and employing some 16,000 men. The south entrance to the Arsenale seen here is flanked by a pair of crenellated towers, reconstructed in 1686 when the Rio dell’Arsenale was widened. To the left is the pedestrian gateway begun in 1460 and held to be the earliest truly Renaissance structure in the city, with later additions including the relief of the lion by Bartolomeo Buon, a winged figure of Victory following the battle of Lepanto in 1571, and surrounding decorated pedestals with statues of 1692-4 by Giovanni Comin. The rio is here spanned by a wooden drawbridge, replaced by a fixed bridge in 1938. The small sixteenth-century oratory of the Madonna dell’Arsenale, seen to the right with a supplicant kneeling at its steps, was demolished in 1809. In the distance is a belltower, which has been claimed to be that of the church of Santa Maria Celeste, demolished in 1810, but is more likely to be that of San Francesco della Vigna, which comes into view when standing closer to the bridge. Although Carlevarijs had included a view very similar to this in his Fabriche e vedute of 1703, Canaletto studied the view ‘from the life’ on two openings of the Sketchbook. Those sketches include a more distant view of the gateway and the building seen along the left edge of the sheet here, suggesting that Canaletto had not at that stage decided on the scope of his composition. The sketches also include a note to make the towers Piu largo (‘wider apart’), and Canaletto followed that memorandum in a painting at Woburn Abbey and in a finished drawing in the Lugt collection, both of the early 1730s. The present sheet returns to the spacing of the towers as seen in the Sketchbook, compressing the composition, and alters the boats and the distant view between the towers. This was originally a much lighter drawing that Canaletto transformed with heavy parallel hatching, the obliteration of earlier detail being most noticeable in the doorway of the monumental gate. Catalogue entry adapted from Canaletto in Venice, London, 2005