This painting depicts the view from an upper-storey window on the eastern elevation of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, which can be seen stretching along the right side of the canvas. Unfolding in the distance, past the castle’s terrace and the pale walls of the Tin Roof Palace, is the Warsaw panorama. Looking south along the Vistula river, we see churches, palaces and residential building dotting the landscape all the way to the former residence of King John III Sobieski in Wilanów. We can clearly discern the Holy Cross Church with its twin bell towers and a bright structure that is Kazimierz Palace, set at a distance from the neighbouring buildings. On the castle’s terrace, Bernardo Bellotto immortalises the everyday life of the last Polish king’s court. Looking from left to right, we see a changing of the Royal Infantry Guard, a horseback riding lesson in the arena and work being done on the castle by workers of the royal sculpture studio.
It is worth taking note of one of the first-floor windows along the right edge, the man seen there in profile is likely King Stanislaus Augustus. The figures accompanying him have been identified as the king’s sister-in-law Teresa Poniatowska née Kinska and her two children Józef and Maria Teresa. The gentleman in the light-coloured uniform with the crimson ribbon on his chest assisting the lady down the stairs is believed to be the Lithuanian Field Hetman Ludwik Tyszkiewicz, to whom the painting was presented by the king upon its completion. For this reason, this composition was never part of the castle’s décor even though it was painted in the same period as Bellotto’s other views of the capital intended for display in one of the rooms.
This painting by Bellotto is possibly the finest existing veduta of Enlightenment-era Warsaw, not only on account of the broad field of view and its accurate rendition of the numerous structures it depicts but also for purely artistic reasons. In it, the painter achieved a masterful harmony between the city’s architecture, the light and airy landscape and the graceful and elegant staffage.
After the Second World War and Warsaw’s near total destruction at the hands of the Nazis, Bellotto’s vedute – this one included – served as visual records for the reconstruction of many of the city’s levelled building.