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 Giovanni Canal
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Giovanni Canal (Canaletto)

About the Artist

Canaletto was born into a family of artists in Venice in 1697. His father painted scenery for the theatre, as did his brother. Scenery of the time usually consisted of paintings that created the illusion of great exterior spaces, such as public plazas, or the interiours of fantastic buildings. To paint such illusions, Canaletto had to be a master of perspective. He undestood that, to the human eye, parallel lines seem to converge at a single point in the distance (the vanishing point). This is easy to see in paintings that include many buildings, like Canaletto's views of Venice.

By the time he was 20, Canaletto was very popular with the English tourists who were making the Grand Tour of Italy and wanted souvenirs of their visits to Venice. Joseph Smith, the British Consul in Venice, introduced him to wealthy patrons and published engravings of Canaletto's paintings. The young artist had so many commissions, or orders, for paintings that he had to use shortcuts-like a camera obscua to help him draw the elements of a scene quickly and accurately. He also had many assistants.

In 1745, Canaletto was invited to England, where he stayed for 10 years. He painted views of London (usually with the Thames River, the English equivalent of the Grand Canal) and portraits of people's impressive country houses. The year he returned to Venice (1755) was the year the Venetian Academy was founded. Canaletto was not elected to the Academy right away, because "view" painting was considered to be inferior to history painting, or even portrait painting. Canaletto was finally elected in 1763, five years before he died.

Vocabulary Terms

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.


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