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Inner Worlds What is Art?   Identity Designing Spaces and Places
Giovanni Canal (Canaletto)
Grand Canal from Palazzo Flangini to Palazzo BemboClick for larger image
Giovanni Antonio Canal (called Canaletto)
Grand Canal from Palazzo Flangini to Palazzo Bembo, before 1740
oil on canvas
24 1/4 x 36 3/8 in.
MIA
 
About the Art

To travelers in the 18th century, Venice, Italy was a city of delight and wonder. Tourists were enchanted by its unique beauty and luxurious lifestyle. They demanded paintings of the city as mementos of their travels. Canaletto was one of the most successful and popular painters of these scenes. He painted carefully accurate "portraits" of his environment.

Wealthy people in the 18th century loved to travel. They were especially interested in exploring the ancient monuments and works of art in Italy. Many travelers came from England, which was then the wealthiest country of the Western world. People took "The Grand Tour," which included visits to the main cities and sights of Europe. The Grand Tour was considered an important part of any gentleman's and, occasionally, gentlewoman's, education.

Topographical painting, or the portraiture of places, was a popular kind of painting in these days. Just as people today collect postcards of their trips, travelers in the 18th century wanted pictures as souvenirs of the places they had visited and the sights they had seen. Some tourists even brought artists with them to paint whatever scenes they fancied. Vedute (veh-doo-tay), or view paintings, became popular. The best and most valuable vedute paintings were those that looked like the real scenes.

Venice was the main center of topographical painting in 18th-century Italy. Its winding canals and romantic gondolas made it an exciting place to visit. Venice's public and religious celebrations were thought to be the most magnificent in Europe. These frequent festivities were a part of the social life of every person, rich or poor. Venice had a well-run government, which provided for the safety and health of visitors, and its hotels were believed to be the best in Europe.

Grand Canal
Canaletto shows us a view of Venice's main canal, called the Grand Canal, which winds its way through the city. Venice has many canals, which are used, like roads, to travel through the city. The Grand Canal was lined with palaces, warehouses and churches. It was a fashionable place for a walk. Canaletto included many details and well-known buildings in this painting. He wanted his painting to look like a mirror held up to the canal.

The title of the painting is Grand Canal from Palazzo Flangini to Palazzo Bembo. "Palazzo" means palace in Italian. The Flangini palace is the first building on the left and was built as a nobleman's home. The Palazzo Bembo is the last building with arched windows you can see on the right side of the canal.
In this scene gondoliers are shown carrying passengers and merchandise. Some of the gondolas are covered like carriages, and others are plain. In this painting it looks as if Canaletto has frozen a single moment of time forever. In the upper left, for example, two people in a gondola are shown caught in the middle of conversation.
Linear Perspective in Canaletto, Grand Palazzo
Perspective lines in Canaletto's painting of the Grand Canal

In order to create the illusion of depth in this realistic painting of the Grand Canal, Canaletto tried to imitate how the human eye perceives the environment. Buildings and gondolas that are further away appear less detailed, edges loose their sharpness, and colors become more muted in the distance. This technique is called atmospheric perspective.

Canaletto also used linear perspective in this painting. Linear perspective uses a system of converging lines to represent the height of objects as they get further away. For example, the line along the top of the buildings on the left side of the canal gradually grows closer to the line along the edge of the water. If both lines were extended slightly further, they would eventually intersect. The sizes of the buildings decrease according to these lines, getting progressively smaller the further away they are, much like this scene would appear in person.

Vocabulary Terms

canal--A man-made waterway built for passage from one place to another.

gondola--A long narrow boat used on the canals in Venice, Italy.

perspective--A variety of techniques used to create the illusion of three-dimensional space on a flat surface by mimicking the effects of distance on human perception. Perspective shows depth and make objects appear three-dimensional on a two-dimensional surface.

Realism--A style of art that represent nature accurately as seen by the human eye.

topographical painting--A type of art using realistic and accurate detail to record a scene or particular place. Often called "the portraiture of places."

veduta--A painting, drawing, or print of a whole or particular view of a town or city.

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