Introduction and Thesis

The most important and innovative Venetian view painter in the eighteenth century was Canaletto (1697-1768). Born Giovanni Antonio Canal, the son of a theatrical scenery painter, Bernard Canal (1664-1744), Canaletto (meaning “little canal”) first trained to paint stage decorations with his father. From 1719 to 1720, they traveled together to Rome, where he was exposed to the works of the famous painter of city views and ruins, Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1691-1765) and was inspired to paint city scenes of his own.[1] After his return to Venice, he began working on views of the city, following to a certain extent the groundbreaking example of Luca Carlevarijs (1663-1730), who was already well established in Venice when Canaletto came to maturity as a painter. Very quickly, however, Canaletto’s reputation as a vedutista, or view painter, surpassed Carlevarijs.[2] Among Canaletto’s patrons were Stefano Conti, a merchant from Lucca; the Irish entrepreneur Owen McSwiney; Charles Lennox, the 2nd Duke of Richmond; and the British Consul to the Venetian Republic, Joseph Smith, who sold his collection to King George III, and who played an important role in launching Canaletto’s career.[3] Canaletto even traveled to England in 1746 and continued to work there for numerous British patrons for nine years, until he returned to Venice in 1755. No matter what subject he chose, whether he was working in Italy or in England, Canaletto could paint the details of his views with perfect accuracy and detail, but he was also recognized for his creative interpretations of his native city, the capricci, in which he made changes, added or omitted buildings, altered proportions, or created shadows that did not exist. He even adjusted the size and shape of the Grand Canal. He thus sometimes remodeled the actual cityscape in his paintings and created a new reality, but the postcard perfection of all his views made the spectator believe that they all depicted reality. Sometimes the alterations are very obvious and would be clear to anyone who was familiar with the place Canaletto was depicting, but sometimes the changes are very subtle. In all cases, though, Canaletto’s use of light, color, and detail are completely convincing and there is no difference in the execution of his capricci and his realistic views. A study of these various works will reveal his brilliance in both genres and will help to explain why he should be considered the greatest and most inventive of the Venetian vedutisti.


[1]             Charles Beddington, Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals (London: National Gallery of London, 2010), 13.

[2]             Ibid., 16.

[3]             Katharine Baetjer, Canaletto (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989), 44.


Image Credit

Canaletto, The Entrance to the Grand Canal, looking West, with Santa Maria della Salute, c. 1729. Oil on canvas, 49.5 x 73.7 cm. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. The Robert Lee Blaffer Memorial Collection, gift of Sarah Campbell Blaffer.

Image scanned from: Charles Beddington, Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals (London: National Gallery of London, 2010), 80.