Old Master Paintings

Six Mesmerising Italian Inspired Cityscapes from a European Private Collection

By Sotheby's
The excellent group of views from the Old Masters Evening Sale presented here, so varied both in the artists represented as well as in the cities depicted, is a testament to the enduring success of Italian view painting. The following six lots come from an important private collection formed by the current owner over the last thirty years, which are to be sold in Old Masters Evening Sale on 3 of July in London.

V edute, or topographically accurate views of cities, became established as a genre at the turn of the eighteenth century in Italy. Cities and townscapes had been painted before this date, but these tended to be infrequent and usually as mere backdrops or incidental to the action of the figures which populated the scenes. This fascinating group shows how quickly view painting spread through Italy. Luca Carlevarijs is represented in this group by his view of the Piazzetta (lot 34). Michele Marieschi also specialised in traditional view paintings but often turned his hand to capricci (lot 36), or imaginary views which were not topographically accurate. By the 1730s the great Antonio Canal, called Canaletto, dominated the scene in Venice, but it was his heir, Bernardo Bellotto, who developed his own crisp style of painting and spread the genre through the continent after he left Italy for the courts of Northern Europe. While in the employ of the Elector of Saxony he produced several views of Dresden, as well as the nearby town of Pirna (lot 39).
View painting also flourished outside of Venice, of course. The Florentine Giuseppe Zocchi in his two masterpieces (lot 37) captured the Tuscan capital with anecdotal details of daily life and with a warm light rarely matched by his contemporaries. Undoubtedly the best travelled of all the Italian view painters was Antonio Joli. He painted most of the main cities in Italy (lots 35 and 38), as well as working in Spain, France, modern-day Croatia and England, often producing views of cities long after he had left them.

Carlevarijs was the first of the great Venetian view painters. He had settled in Venice from his native Udine by 1679 and painted capricci and landscapes until 1703. His earliest known view painting dates from that same year, and from that moment vedutismo became his focus, particularly as it coincided with the exponential increase in demand for the genre thanks to the large number of Grand Tourists, many of them British. Until the emergence of Canaletto in the 1720s, Carlevarijs was the finest and most successful vedutista in Venice, concentrating predominantly on the main stretch of the city around the Bacino di San Marco, the Piazzetta, as seen in the present work, and the Piazza San Marco.
Datable to the mid-1710s, this painting shows the Piazzetta looking towards the Libreria, with the corner of the Palazzo Ducale closing the composition to the right. The success of the design is testified by the five known treatments of the view. The closest version to the present work, at least in terms of the disposition of some of the foreground figures, is the painting formerly in a Milanese private collection. The figure far right is based on a figure study in the Victoria and Albert Museum. The figure far left, as well as the man with his back turned toward us wearing a brown over-mantle in the centre of the composition, are based on drawings by Carlevarijs formerly in the Salamon collection, Milan.

Joli was extremely well-travelled and is known to have worked in a number of Italian cities (Modena, Perugia, Venice, Rome and Naples), as well as in Dresden, London (1744–48) and Madrid (1750–54). He is first recorded in Venice in the spring of 1732 and remained in the city for ten years. He made a name for himself there as a scenografo designing sets for theatrical and musical performances, as well as for festivals in Venice, Modena and Padua. His success in this vein no doubt brought in its train a demand from clients for easel paintings, particularly views of the city, and in this he was to draw heavily upon the work of his contemporary Canaletto, whom he may have met in Venice in 1735. The large number of extant versions of this design implies it was probably Joli's most popular view of Venice. This is one of only three signed versions, and is probably the most successful due to its extremely high quality and the way the light is beautifully rendered. The artist is known to have repeated the composition, with alterations in the format and size, on at least seven other occasions.

The presence of a high-arched building in the left foreground which dominates the rest of the design is a recurring feature in Marieschi's capricci, as is the timelessness of the buildings, which contrast with the animated figures spread throughout the scene. The arched cloud formation is also found in a capriccio sold in these Rooms, 7 July 2010, lot 46, for £150,000.

Giuseppe Zocchi was undoubtedly the pre-eminent vedutista in Florence during the eighteenth century. His views, usually painted in a warm, blond palette, tend to be topographically precise, unlike many of his Venetian counterparts, and the figures play more than an accidental role in the scenes, often injecting a note of humour in their depiction of quotidian life. Under the employ of Marchese Andrea Gerini, Giuseppe Zocchi travelled to study in Rome, Bologna and Milan, and he would have come into contact with the work of Canaletto and Michele Marieschi, as well as that of Francesco Zuccarelli, who was to particularly influence him. His most famous works are two series of engravings of Florence and the surrounding countryside, commissioned by the very same Marchese Gerini and published in 1744. In the first painting we are looking north-west, downstream, along the axis of the River Arno from the Ponte alle Grazie, the Ponte Vecchio closing off the vista, with the tower of the Palazzo della Podestà rising to the right and beyond it the dome of the Duomo, the upper part of the Giotto campanile and the Palazzo Vecchio. In the second we are looking south-east, upstream, across the River Arno on a diagonal with the Ponte alla Carraia to the left, and on the Oltrarno running right to left along the Lungarno Soderini: the tower of Santa Maria del Carmine; the church of San Frediano in Cestello; the bell tower and dome of Santo Spirito; rising behind it the Fortezza del Belvedere and to the left, San Miniato al Monte.

Two very similar works by Bernardo Bellotto are in the Beit Foundation, Russborough, Ireland. The difference between the artists' respective treatments of the views is mainly confined to certain details in the staffage and the cloud formations, and the overall contrast between the warmth of Zocchi’s light and the cooler crispness of Bellotto’s approach. Bellotto is known to have been in Florence in the early 1740s but it remains to be clarified which artist painted their pictures first.

Two of Rome's most famous and remarkable structures tower over the rest of the Eternal City, as figures gently go about their day, both on the gently flowing river and along the bridge. Decorated with Bernini's marble statues, the beautifully rendered stone structure bisects the composition. Wrapped in the warm glow of Rome's light, the painting would have appealed as much to eighteenth-century grand tourists as it does to a contemporary viewer. Toledano dates this view of Rome by Joli to 1744–49, during the artist's English sojourn. He lists five versions of the present design, which differs from other treatments of the same view by including the pine tree at the left. The present painting appears to be the finest of the known versions (some of which show some studio participation), thanks to its chromatic brilliance and luminosity. Joli paid particular attention to the gentle reflection of the bridge in the rippling water, which in the other versions is not nearly as successful.

Bernardo Bellotto was the nephew of Canaletto, and it was in his uncle's studio that he received his unparalleled training. Remarkably, by the age of sixteen, he was already registered as an independent master in the Venetian painters' guild. To Canaletto's style, Bellotto added a cooler light, which was to prove ideally suited to his depictions of the major cities of the north of Europe, including Dresden, Vienna, Munich and Warsaw, where he worked after leaving Italy at the age of twenty-five. This is one of three small autograph versions of the large prototype in Dresden. Kozakiewicz dated the present picture to the end of Bellotto's first stay in Dresden (1747–58). During that time the artist was employed by the Elector of Saxony, Frederick Augustus II, and received a very handsome salary of 1,750 talers a year, the highest sum ever paid to a court painter in that city. During these years he painted a series of twenty-nine large views of Dresden, the nearby city of Pirna and the fortress of Königstein; eleven of these views depict Pirna. The large drawing in the Muzeum Narodowe, Warsaw, is considered by Kozakiewicz to be preparatory for all the versions. Pirna is located in Saxony, in the Elbe Valley, between Dresden and the Elbe Sandstone Mountains. The medieval town centre retains its magical charm since it was largely spared from damage during the wars of the last century. Sonnenstein Castle dominates the city and was painted by Bellotto on at least ten occasions.

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