A Grand Tour through Canaletto's Europe

By Google Arts & Culture

The Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice (c. 1730) by CanalettoThe Museum of Fine Arts, Houston

The Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice, c.1730

The artist Giovanni Antonio Canal, known to history as Canaletto, was a Venetian painter of urban landscapes. With a life spanning the 17th and 18th Centuries and most of Europe, he was a witness to a changing continent.

Take a journey across Europe to see how the views Canaletto painted have changed over the centuries.

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The Rialto Bridge, c.1740

The city-state of Venice was one of the richest and most extravagant in Europe. Its large art market allowed Canaletto to give up painting stage sets for canvases and printmaking, and his scenes of daily city life found an admiring audience amongst merchants.

Many of the scenes he depicted took real buildings, such as the Rialto Bridge, as their subject. However the line between reality and fiction was never clear.

Piazza San Marco Looking South and West (1763) by Antonio Canal (called Canaletto)Los Angeles County Museum of Art

While Canaletto was interested in the study of optics, he remained an artist and many of his paintings rely on artistic licence. This scene of Venice's St Mark's Square exaggerates the height of buildings and depth of field to lend the square magnificence.

Today, though still just as beautiful and still just as wet, it's clear that Canaletto's paintings drift into the realm of fantasy.

View of the Arch of Constantine with the Colosseum (Main View)The J. Paul Getty Museum

View of the Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine, 1743

Many of Canaletto's pictures were made for tourists visiting Europe on the Grand Tour. As well as contemporary scenes, he captured landmarks and ancient monuments, such as Rome's Colosseum and the Arch of Constantine.

Here you can see how once again, he shifted the positions of the monuments to make for a better composition.

Warwick Castle (1748 to 1749) by Canaletto, 1697–1768, Venetian, active in Britain (1746–55)Yale Center for British Art

Warwick Castle, 1748–49

In the 1740s, when war in Europe prevented people from taking a Grand Tour, Canaletto moved to England in order to be closer to his biggest market. Just like in Rome, he was drawn to picturesque castles and ruins.

Warwick Castle today looks much as it did to Canaletto.

St. Paul's Cathedral (ca. 1754) by Canaletto, 1697–1768, Venetian, active in Britain (1746–55)Yale Center for British Art

St. Paul's Cathedral, 1754

While St Paul's had been consecrated since 1697, it was only officially completed in 1711. Canaletto depicts the fresh stone gleaming in the soft, lilac sky. His eye for rendering architectural details was appreciated by many.

Nearly as many tourists flock to St Paul's today as when it first opened. While many of the surrounding buildings were destroyed in the Second World War, the cathedral has stood solid.

London: The Thames from Somerset House Terrace towards the City (1750 - 1751) by CanalettoRoyal Collection Trust, UK

The Thames from the Terrace of Somerset House, 1750

In this painting, Canaletto has taken up a view from the terrace of the old Somerset House that occupied the site until 1775. Looking east, St Paul's Cathedral and the spires of numerous smaller churches can be seen towering above the low buildings of the City of London.

Today, as seen from Waterloo Bridge, St Pauls is overshadowed by the skyscrapers of the City.

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