Lot 29
  • 29

GIOVANNI ANTONIO CANAL, CALLED CANALETTO | Architectural capriccio with classical ruins

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  • Architectural capriccio with classical ruins
  • oil on canvas
  • 70 3/4  by 127 1/4  in.; 179.5 by 323.5 cm.


Commissioned by Count Giovanni Benedetto Giovanelli (1652–1732) and his brother Count Giovanni Paolo Giovanelli (1658–1734) for their Villa Giovanelli, Noventa Padovana;
By descent within the Giovanelli family until circa 1800;
Anonymous sale (‘The Property of a Gentleman’), London, Sotheby’s, 25 November 1970, lot 85, for £19,000;
Whence acquired by the Heim Gallery, London;
With Luigi Galli, Zurich;
From whom believed to have been acquired by the great aunt of the present owners.


Venice, Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra Santa’Apollonia, Vedute italiane del ’700 in collezioni private italiane, 19 September – 8 November 1987, no. 21;
Gorizia, Civico Museo del Castello, Capricci veneziani del Settecento, June–September 1988, no. 21;
Madrid, Museo del Thyssen-Bornemisza, Canaletto. Una Venecia imaginaria, 29 May–2 September 2001, no. 35;
Rome, Palazzo Giustiniani, Canaletto. Il trionfo della veduta, 12 March–19 June 2005, pp. 48-55, no. 5;
Paris, Musée de Jacquemart-André, Canaletto e Guardi. Les deux maîtres de Venise, 14 September 2012–14 January 2013, no. 44;
Aix-en-Provence, Caumont centre d’art, Canaletto. Rome, Londres, Venise, Le triomphe de la lumière, 6 May–13 September 2015, no. 5;
Rome, Museo di Roma–Palazzo Braschi, Canaletto 1697–1768, 11 April – 19 August 2018, no. 7. 


Selected Literature:Listed in the posthumous inventory, drawn up on 10th January 1735, of goods belonging to the brothers Counts Giovanni Benedetto (1652–1732) and Giovanni Paolo Giovanelli (1658 – 1734), as: ‘Due quadri grandi Architetture, e Figure d’Antonio Canal con soazze dipinte bianchi, e Fillo d’oro alti q.te 14 larghi q.te 19’;
G. Rossetti, Description of paintings, sculptures, and architecture in Padua, 1780, p. 370, as: ‘in un Salotto terreno vi sono due quadroni con vedute di Antonio Canaletto’;
A. Cicogna, Delle Inscrizioni Veneziane, Venice 1842, pp. 345 and 347;
R. Pallucchini, ‘Per gli esordi del Canaletto’, in Arte Veneta, XXVII, 1973, pp. 167-71;
W.G. Constable, Canaletto. Giovanni Antonio Canal 1697–1768, 2nd rev. ed. J.G. Links, Oxford 1976, vol. I, plate 210, vol. II, p. 449, no. 479***;
A. Corboz, Canaletto. Una Venezia immaginaria, Milan 1985, vol. I, p. 366, vol. II, p. 594, no. P.104;
Vedute italiane del ’700 in collezioni private italiane, exh. cat., Museo Diocesano d’Arte Sacra Santa’Apollonia, Venice, 19 September–8 November 1987, p. 37, no. 21;
Capricci veneziani del Settecento, exh. cat., Civico Museo del Castello, Gorizia, June–September 1988, p. 420, no. 21;
A. Mariuz, ‘Capricci veneziani del Settecento’, in Arte Veneta, XLII, 1988, pp. 128-30;
F. Montecuccoli degli Erri, ‘Committenze artistiche di una famiglia patrizia emergente. I Giovanelli e la villa di Noventa Padovana’, in Atti dell’Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti…, 151, 1992-1993, pp. 731-36, 744;
C. Beddington, ‘Il primo Canaletto’, in Quadri & Sculture, VII, no. 35, March-April 1999, p. 47;
Canaletto. Una Venecia imaginaria, exh. cat., Museo del Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 29 May–2 September 2001, pp. 81-84, 136-37, no. 35;
Canaletto. Il trionfo della veduta, exh. cat., Palazzo Giustiniani, Rome, 12 March–19 June 2005, pp. 48-55, no. 5;
Canaletto e Guardi. Les deux maitres de Venise, exh. cat., Musée de Jacquemart-André, Paris, 14 September 2012–14 January 2013, pp. 171-73, 198, no. 44;
Canaletto a Venise, exh. cat., Musée Maillol, Paris, 19 September 2012 - 10 February 2013, pp. 14-15, reproduced fig. 2;
Canaletto. Rome, Londres, Venise, Le triomphe de la lumière, exh. cat., Caumont centre d’art, Aix-en-Provence, 6 May–13 September 2015, pp. 48, 64-65, 206, no. 5; 
Canaletto 1697 – 1768, exh. cat., Museo di Roma – Palazzo Braschi, Rome, 11 April–19 August 2018, pp. 74 and 224, no. 7, reproduced p. 75.


The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's.This large work has been restored. The varnish is noticeably glossy, but it saturates the colors well. The paint layer is clean. The canvas has been lined, and the paint layer is stable. In general, the work does not seem to be abraded, but a fine network of cracking has developed throughout, particularly in the sky.While the cracks in the sky have not been retouched, there are other isolated areas of retouching here. There are two or three areas of restored damage in the upper left corner, including a 12 inch long vertical line of losses about 6 inches from the left edge. There is another line of retouches about 2 inches from the upper left edge, and a third group of restorations in the center of the left edge. A pentiment around the obelisk has been retouched. There is a horizontal line of retouches in the cloud in the upper center, running about 6 inches. There are some retouches across the top edge. The remainder of the sky seems to be healthy.The condition appears to be very good in the landscape, architecture and figures, with very few retouches visible under ultraviolet light. There are a few in the sculptural frieze in the lower center at the base of the column. There is a 3 inch vertical restoration in the shadows of the ruins in the upper center. There is a vertical line of restorations immediately to the left of the two small figures and child in the lower left of the archway. There is an 18 inch line of retouching, running from the upper right edge to the center of the right edge; this line is about 1 ½ inches from the right edge. There are a few other isolated spots of retouching.Losses are certainly to be expected in a work of this scale and period, and the condition is good overall.
"This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

Catalogue Note

This monumental capriccio is an early masterpiece by Canaletto, Italy’s leading 18th-century view painter, and can be dated to the year 1723. Along with its pendant, today in a private collection, it is the largest known work ever painted by the great Venetian master and furthermore includes what is believed to be the only known self-portrait of the artist, who is seen at work through the great archway on the right of the composition.1 The early history of the painting only came to light in 1992 following the important discovery of an early inventory, dated 10 January 1735, that revealed the work was in the collection of the brothers Counts Giovanni Benedetto (1652–1732) and Giovanni Paolo Giovanelli (1658–1734), along with its pendant of a Capriccio with classical ruins with the Basilica of Vicenza, the Pyramid of Caio Cestio and the Arch of Constantine, which is signed and dated 1723.2 The inventory records both paintings as hanging in a drawing room on the ground floor of Villa Giovanelli, the family’s country residence in Noventa Padovana near Padua, that was commissioned from the architect Antonio Gaspari during the late 17th century and was described by the French traveller J.J. de La Lande as ‘une des plus belles maisons de campagne’.3 This outstanding late baroque villa survives to this day and is currently undergoing a major restoration project. 

Canaletto’s two large capricci are described in the 1735 inventory as ‘Due quadri grandi Architetture, e Figure d’Antonio Canal con soazze dipinte bianchi, e Fillo d’oro alti q.te 14 larghi q.te 19’ and some 30 years later were seen in situ by the local historian Giovambattista Rossetti who records in his Description of paintings, sculptures, and architecture in Padua, published in 1780, that ‘in un Salotto terreno vi sono due quadroni con vedute di Antonio Canaletto’. The paintings remained at Villa Giovanelli until the death of the last member of the family in around 1800, at which time they were dispersed. 

The discovery of the 1735 inventory, first published by Montecuccoli degli Erri in 1992-93, as well as the signature and date of 1723 on the pendant to the present work, provide an important insight into the commissioning of both canvases for Villa Giovanelli and furthermore establishes a crucial date of execution not only for these two monumental canvases but also for other stylistically related works from Canaletto’s early period, notably four grand Venetian views formerly in the collection of the Princes of Liechtenstein, Vienna, today divided between the Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice, and the Thyssen Bornemisza Museum, Madrid. 

Canaletto’s early output reflects his training with his father Bernardo Canal (1674–1744), a successful painter of theatrical scenery. The young artist is first recorded working with his father and uncle Cristoforo Canal on the stage sets for operas by Antonio Vivaldi at the theatres of S. Angelo and S. Cassiano in Venice from 1716 until 1718, which was followed by a highly formative trip to Rome in 1719 to paint scenery for operas by Alessandro Scarlatti performed at the Teatro Capranica during the Carnival of 1720. Although none of these stage sets survive they provided the artist with an ideal training in perspective and the depiction of architecture and were highly praised by Anton Maria Zanetti the younger who records that Canaletto soon turned his talents to painting views, both real and imaginary. During his visit to the Eternal City in 1719-20, Canaletto made numerous drawings of Roman monuments and buildings, both modern and ancient, the majority of which are today in the British Museum, London, and which later in his career would provide a rich source for his paintings. 

The present work, together with its pendant, can be considered the most ambitious and impressive architectural capricci ever produced by Canaletto and the style of the paintings no doubt reflects something of the theatrical sets produced at the start of his career. It also reveals a clear knowledge and assimilation of the styles of other leading architectural painters whose work the young artist would have known, above all the Venetian master Marco Ricci, who in 1718 worked as a stage designer in the same Venetian theatres as the Canal family and who is also believed to have been in Rome in around 1719-20. In Rome Canaletto would also have seen at first hand the early architectural capricci of the city’s leading view painter, Giovanni Paolo Panini, as well as works in this genre by Viviano Codazzi and Giovanni Ghisolfi.

Canaletto’s introduction to the Giovanelli brothers may have resulted from his dealings with the Venetian painter Antonio Pellegrini, who painted the frescoed ceiling to the main salon in the Villa at Noventa Padovana and for whom Canaletto produced four views of Venice at around the same time. Canaletto’s monumental canvases seem to have been commissioned specifically to form part of a decorative scheme at Villa Giovanelli, which included two works by Giovanni Ghisolfi, today untraced, that had been acquired a few years earlier in August 1719 and are described as of similar dimensions and in similar frames to Canaletto’s works in the 1735 inventory: ‘Due quadri grandi Architetture del Grisolfi con soazze bianche e filo d’oro alti q.te quattordeci larghi q.te 19’. Two further large canvases from the decorative scheme at Villa Giovanelli have also been identified, namely the magnificent Capriccio of a Mediterranean Seaport and A Sea Battle by Luca Carlevarijs (with whom Canaletto is believed to have trained following his return from Rome), which were sold London, Christie’s, 19 April 1996, lots 253 and 254.

Canaletto’s Architectural capriccio with classical ruins reveals a mixture of fantastical and familiar architectural buildings and monuments. As pointed out by Bozena Anna Kowalczyk, the artist makes reference to the great cities of Rome on the left of the composition, and Venice on the right. Through the vault of a grand archway that dominates the right side of the composition, can be seen the upper storey of Sansovino’s celebrated Libreria di San Marco, built between 1538 and 1591, which has been transposed on to a single storey arched colonnade that extends across two thirds of the composition to an imposing ruined temple with a fountain on a high basement at the left of the centre ground. To the right of the temple is the great dome of an imaginary church and on the far left is a distant view of the Lateran Palace in Rome, with its obelisk. The architectural stage is animated by highly colourful groups of figures seen going about their everyday tasks, including two Swiss guards in their distinctive uniforms, one reclining on a set of ruins in the immediate left foreground, the other conversing with a man and a child under the monumental archway. Discreetly located at the base of an ionic column just through the archway on the right is an artist, presumably Canaletto himself, seated at work.

This imposing work by Canaletto, painted on a monumental scale rarely to be found in the artist’s œuvre, is an outstanding example of his early capricci, painted shortly after his formative trip to Rome. Together with its pendant, it forms part of the artist’s earliest known commission for the grand decorative scheme at Villa Giovanelli at Noventa Padovana, a magnificent country house celebrated for the beauty of its architecture and outstanding interior decorative scheme. Described by Mariuz as ‘exciting for its quality and invention’, the painting reveals even at this early stage in Canaletto’s career, what would become a lifelong fascination with architecture and the fusion of the real with the imaginary.

1 For the pendant see the exhibition catalogue, Canaletto. Il trionfo della veduta, 2005, pp. 48-51, no. 4, reproduced.

2 F. Montecuccioli degli Erri, 1992-93, p. 774.

3 J.J. de La Lande, Voyage en Italie, 1765 et 1766, Paris 1786, VIII, p. 589.