VENICE: PIAZZA SAN MARCO, SEEN FROM
CAMPO SAN BASSO
Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal) / Italian, 1697-1768. SN 186,Oil on
From: The Pages
Canaletto was the most famous view painter of the 18th century. He began work painting
theatrical scenery, but turned to topography early in his career during a visit to Rome,
when he was influenced by the work of Panini. By 1723 he was painting dramatic and
picturesque views of Venice, marked by strong contrasts of light and shade and free
handling. Meanwhile, partly under the influence of Carlevaris and largely in rivalry with
him, Canaletto began to turn out views which were more topographically accurate, set in a
higher key and with smoother and more precise handling - characteristics that mark most of
his later work.
Canaletto certainly saw Luca Carlevaris' capriccios and imaginary harbor scenes during his
formative years in Venice. Some of his early townscapes appear to have been adapted from
engravings and even from paintings by Carlevaris, supporting the hypothesis that after his
return from Rome to Venice he spent some time in Carlevaris' studio.
By 1725-26 he was very much in demand as a specialist of Venetian townscapes (veduti). His
patrons were chiefly English collectors for whom he sometimes produced series of views of
uniform size. Even in its mechanical phases his work is much more than a mere factual
record; and by his unobtrusive skill in design, and his power of suffusing his work with
light and air, he may justly be regarded as one of the precursors of 19th century
This painting depicts the Piazza San Marco, Venice, as seen from Campo San Basso.
The view is from the shadowy corner of the Basilica toward the far end of the piazza. On
the right is the famous clock tower, with its bronze man striking the bell on the hour.
Artisans are at work, and merchants sit under their awnings with their wares. There is
blue sky with bright sunlight, but storm clouds are approaching. The painting has been
dated during the last decade of the artist's life. The mechanical type of spot
highlighting is characteristic of Canaletto's later works.
In the 18th century noble families of England usually sent their sons on a "Grand
Tour" of the continent as part of their education. The trip might take several years,
and was often taken with a tutor. Paintings such as the two Canalettos in this gallery
were typical of the those in demand by these tourists, as souvenirs of their travels.