During the eighteenth century, views of Venice by Canaletto (born Giovanni Antonio Canal) were disseminated widely in Europe, as both paintings and prints. The artist produced these vedute primarily for the burgeoning tourist market in Italy, and particularly for wealthy Englishmen making what was commonly known as a ‘Grand Tour’ of the Continent. This painting is one of four views of Venice that were commissioned from Canaletto by William Holbech, for the dining room of his family home, Farnborough Hall, in Warwickshire. Holbech had spent fifteen years in Venice and knew Canaletto well, and the artist may have had a hand in designing the elaborate stucco settings within which his works were installed at Farnborough Hall.
Canaletto painted evocative rather than topographically accurate renderings of Venice, taking subtle and very effective liberties with the placement and proportions of buildings, and with perspective, in order to create balanced and appealing compositions. The view in this painting is that looking southwest from the small square known as the Piazzetta San Marco, into the San Marco Basin (the body of water adjacent to the Piazzetta, the Giudecca and the neighbouring island of San Giorgio Maggiore, and the opening of the Grand Canal). To the right are the Sansovino Library and the Column of St Theodore, which dominate and anchor the composition. Canaletto consistently produced these idealized scenes, showing Venice at its most splendid, and it is little wonder that he was the artist chosen by Holbech to paint mementos of the Englishman’s favourite city.
Text by Laurie Benson from Painting and sculpture before 1800 in the international collections of the National Gallery of Victoria, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003, p. 96.