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Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)

A capriccio with a monumental staircase c.1755-60

Pen and ink, with grey wash, over ruled and free pencil and pinpointing | 36.3 x 53.1 cm (sheet of paper) | RCIN 907564

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A drawing of an invented view, known as a capriccio. It shows a terrace with a large staircase leading up to a loggia. Several figures and a dog are shown on the staircase and terrace. In the background is a view across the Venetian lagoon.

This is one of the largest and grandest of Canaletto’s capricci. In the foreground is a shaded terrace, from which a staircase descends to meet - somehow - another rising to a highly decorated loggia, with a shield on its upper corner bearing Canaletto’s chevron. The architecture is wholly fictitious: resemblances of the loggia to the Procuratie Nuove, and of the staircase to the Scala dei Giganti in the courtyard of the Palazzo Ducale, are merely generic. To the right is a compressed view of the Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute as seen from the Molo, though the Giudecca beyond has given way to an open horizon.

The drawing is commonly supposed to be late, of around 1760; it displays the strong perspective of, for instance, the drawing that corresponds with Canaletto’s reception painting of 1765 for the Accademia, and shares with that sheet such incidental details as the decorated neoclassical vases sprouting a few straggly leaves. It is however richer in effect, with more variation in touch, than the rather monotonous lines of many of Canaletto’s certainly late drawings (such as the set of Feste Ducali); it shares the style and mannerisms of the capricci catalogued above, differing only in scale and ambition. While a date after 1755 is probably to be preferred, it may conceivably be a work of the 1740s. This illustrates the stability of Canaletto’s style over the last decades of his career, and the consequent difficulty of dating his drawings from this period on style alone.

Catalogue entry adapted from Canaletto in Venice, London, 2005