This view of the Molo, from the Bacino di San Marco, extends from the Palazzo delle Prigioni Nuove, built between 1566 and 1614, over to Jacopo Sansovino’s masterpieces, the Libreria and the Zecca; to the right is a modest house with a sloping roof and to the left is the Ponte della Pescheria and a section of the old Serenissima granary. The Palazzo Ducale is at the centre of the composition and is towered by the S. Marco’s Campanile visible from the belfry to the top. The Molo and Riva degli Schiavoni from the Bacino di San Marco is one of the most often repeated subjects in Venetian view painting yet the perspective shown here, with the monuments seen from a short distance towards the North West, is relatively rare.
This recently discovered work, here attributed to Bernardo Bellotto, can be compared to two paintings of the same composition published by W.G. Constable and J.G. Links. The first, whose attribution to the artist’s uncle Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto (1697-1698) is unquestionable, measures 23 ¼ by 36 5/8 in.( 59 x 93 cm), and is one in a series of four vedute acquired in Venice by Charles Powlett, Third Duke of Bolton (1685-1754) which then passed before 1855 to the collection of Clarke-Jervoise of Idsworth Park, Horndean, Hampshire.1 The second, belonging to the Trustees of the Late Adolph Hirsch, measuring 23 5/8 by 38 ¼ in.(60 x 97 cm.) appears almost identical to the latter but its attribution in the opinion of the present writer needs further study.2
Canaletto’s Duke of Bolton series is closely linked to the early work of Bernardo Bellotto in his uncle’s workshop. Paintings and drawings by Bellotto showing the compositions related to each of the four ex-Bolton canvases have survived and among them is the preparatory study for this painting. Though not reproduced, the drawing is described in detail by H.A. Fritzsche in 1936, when it was among some seventy sheets from the artist’s estate in the collection of the Darmstadt’s Hessisches Landesmuseum.3 At some point between 1936 and 1941 the drawing was sold by the Museum, together with a number of other drawings by Bellotto. It was later recognized by the author as the drawing offered as a work by Canaletto in a 1945 auction at Fischer, Zurich.4 The pure contours and distinct ruled lines, not only in the principal outlines of the architecture but also in tracing the contours of the boats, are typical of the artist and, while the perspective outlining is correct and the detailing accurate, stylistically the drawing is somewhat elementary, suggesting a date of execution around 1736-1737. Its current location remains unknown.
In the Duke of Bolton series the pendant to the Molo Looking North-West with the Palazzo Ducale and the Prigioni is the View of the Bacino, toward the East, with the Dogana da Mar and the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, the drawing for which is still housed in the Darmstadt Museum.5 The drawing is a little more refined and accurate than that sold at Fischer, with different boats and diligent hatched shading signifying the clouds and reflections in the water, and could perhaps be an elaboration of an earlier, more functional preparatory drawing for the Duke of Bolton picture.6 A preparatory sketch for The Canal Grande, facing South, from the Ca’ da Mosto to the Rialto, also still at the Darmstadt Museum, is similarly elementary in its execution, again with extensive use of a ruler throughout.7 Stefan Kozakiewicz catalogued the work as attributed to the artist, “perhaps of the very young Bellotto or another member of the Canaletto’s atelier”, but the existence of two paintings by Bellotto (one of which was known to Kozakiewicz, the second is still unpublished) that follow this drawing, and its stylistic affinity with the other drawings by the artist acts decisively in favor of its authorship.8
A large portion of Bellotto’s drawing portfolio was destroyed in his Dresden home during a Prussian bombardment in the course of the Seven Years War. At a very young age, Bellotto was charged with composing designs with the help of a camera obscura which were then used by his master in one or more paintings and later utilized in Bellotto’s own canvases. The survival of these and other similar sketches suggests this was an established practice in the atelier. In the Fischer drawing Bellotto scrupulously replicates the minutest architectural details and Canaletto faithfully follows this outline in the Duke of Bolton painting, even down to the contouring of the clouds, the boats and the figures, only altering the point of view marginally to the left, limiting the extension slightly at each edge, lending a more slender aspect to the campanile. The present painting also draws heavily from the sketch, precisely following the perspective outline and using the original view point which shows the initial proportions of the sloping roofed house on the right. There are, however, variations in detail, demonstrating a certain creativity in the design: the campanile remains slender and the different level between the two parts of the roof of the Palazzo Ducale is more evident; the decorative battlements crowning the façade of the Palazzo Ducale overlooking the Rio di Palazzo (of which there are ten both in reality and in the drawing) have been increased to twelve; the dormer window is no longer depicted, nor the two thin, rectangular openings above the second pointed window to the right on the façade facing the Molo; varies the placement of the chimneys on the Procuratie Nuove; the number of figures is reduced in the Piazzetta, and on the Riva in front of the Palazzo delle Prigioni, the gesticulating figure near the wooden house is now absent and the group of figures beneath the arch has been replaced by a small stall displaying goods; one of the boats to the left has been omitted and the irons of the six gondolas moored near the Ponte della Paglia are now more pronounced.
The Palazzo delle Prigioni is perhaps the most original passage in the canvas, even when compared to Bellotto’s interpretations in each of the other versions: the ashlar stone is expressed in a more simplified manner than that in the drawing, with the attention instead drawn to darkened under-arches and on the first floor in white Istrian stone where the effect of the rain washing away is emphasized.
Another virtuosic passage which punctually demonstrates Bellotto’s tendency toward realism is the sky above the Zecca and Libreria, quite different from that in the drawing. The melancholic blue of the sky is enriched with highly original cloud formations, in horizontal streaks of grey and white, and above those, a fantastical white cloud, with frayed contours, reinforced with parallel diagonal brushstrokes. This spectacular sky, the green-blue of the water and the contrasting shadow imbue the painting with dramatic character typical of the young Bellotto’s painting. The precise description of the library in shadow demonstrates the Bellotto’s way of interpreting Canaletto’s technical processes of the second half of the 1730s, with heavy, reticular lines drawn with a ruler, incising the fresh preparation to signify the contours of the principal architectural and decorative elements. A similar representation of the sky with clouds reinforced by diagonal strokes, this same graphic manner used to define architectural detailing, and the careful representation of the irregularity of the plaster and the patches of damp are notable in The Canal Grande from the church of Santa Croce and the Corpus Domini Convent in the National Gallery, London, attributed by the author in 1998 to the young Bellotto, who was by then at a solid point in his career. The richness of materials and his depiction of figures (some of identical typologies) using dashes of flesh tone and contours formed with interrupted, sinuous lines, are also recognizable in the only two documented Venetian works by the young Bellotto, The Entrance to the Canal Grande, facing West, with Santa Maria della Salute and The Rialto Bridge from the North, acquired in Venice in 1743 on behalf of James Harris M.P. (1709-1780), father of the First Earl of Malmesbury (now in a private collection).9 Together with the present painting, the works mentioned here, united by stylistic and technical characteristics, represent the beginnings of Bernardo Bellotto as a painter of Venetian vedute.
We can deduce that Bellotto’s composition was a discreet success: besides the Duke of Bolton picture, Canaletto followed his nephew’s design also in one of the four views of San Marco, commissioned by Joseph Smith and now in the British Royal Collection, signed and dated XXIV October MDCCXLIII (23 ¾ by 37 5/8 in.; 60,5 x 95,5 cm), which was later to be engraved by Antonio Visentini; the viewpoint is moved slightly to the left and the boats and figures are different.10
Bożena Anna Kowalczyk
This work will be published by Bożena Anna Kowalczyk in her forthcoming Bernardo Bellotto catalogue.
1. G. Knox, “Four Canaletti for the Duke of Bolton and two ‘Aid-memoire’ in Apollo, October 1993, p. 245ss; J.G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable’s Canaletto Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697-1768, p. 9-10, n. 85. Though not documented, the Duke of Bolton’s sojourn in Venice with his companion, the actress Lavinia Fenton can be deduced from a receipt for the payment of 100 zecchini for four paintings in Canaletto’s hand, published by G. Knox (“Four Canaletti”, op. cit., p. 245) and a letter written in 1855 by Sir Jervoise Clarke-Jervoise, son of Rev. Samuel Clarke-Jervoise, who acquired the series from Mrs, Paulet, a descendant of the Duke of Bolton, ("Mem:m from Mr Seguier to me 1855 J.C.J. 4 Canaletti were painted for the Duke of Bolton then at Venice, and were purchased at the recommendation of Mr. Seguier by my father from Mrs Poulett who asked the cost price (£25 for each picture) according to the receipt she had, under the hand of Canaletti, or mem;m of the D. of Bolton £100 for the four paintings, J.C.J. Feb:y 12, 1855 The name of the firm is Messrs. Seguier & Smart, 6 Argyle Place, Regent Street, London").
2. W.G. Constable, Canaletto Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697-1768, Second edition revised by J.G. Links, reissued with Supplement and Additional Plates, Oxford 1989, I, reproduced plate 191, II, p. 226, no. 85.
3. H.A. Fritzsche, Bernardo Bellotto genannt Canaletto, Burg bei Magdeburg 1936, p. 130, no. VZ 13; the Fritzsche note is reprised in S. Kozakiewicz, Bernardo Bellotto, London 1972, II, p. 409, no. A 69.
4. Sale, Fischer Lucerna, 2 June 1945, lot 9 (256 x 365 mm); the drawing will be published by the author in her forthcoming Bernardo Bellotto catalogue.
5. Property of Major A.F. Clarke-Jervoise, Sale Christie’s 27 June 1975, lot 5; Sale Sotheby’s London, 1 November 1978, lot 51; With Harari and Johns, 1988; J.G. Links, A Supplement, op. cit., pp. 14-15, no. 133.
6. S. Kozakiewicz, Bernardo Bellotto, London 1972, I, p. 65, II, p. 8, no. 6.
7. Ibid., II, pp. 18, 400, 434, no. A 202 (247 x 387 mm).
8. Ibid.; and also, II, pp. 17-18, no. 16.
9. Ibid., II, n. A 116 e A 193; B.A. Kowalczyk, Canaletto e Bellotto: l’arte della veduta, exhibition catalogue, Milan 2008, pp. 58-59, no. 2.
10. W.G. Constable and J.G. Links, op. cit., n. 85; Visentini print no. II in a series of four large etchings of San Marco (the preparatory drawing of only the outlines is housed in the Museo Correr, Venice).
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