Visiting Venice with the Old Masters

Launch Slideshow

This week the art world throngs to the Venice Biennale to discover the latest in contemporary art. The city itself, however, remains as magical and timeless as it was in the 18th century, when tourists from England and across Europe first began to flock to the Floating City. The birth of tourism in Venice gave rise to a generation of artists including Guardi, Canaletto and Marieschi, who memorialised the city’s majesty in their luminous vedute paintings. Much of the skyline and iconic views have remained largely untouched over the course of centuries. Click ahead to see the enchanting city as it was then through a selection of outstanding vedute featured in our upcoming Master Paintings auction. 

Master Paintings

8 June | New York

Visiting Venice with the Old Masters

  • Francesco Guardi, Venice, A View Of The Grand Canal With San Simeone Piccolo, circa 1745. Estimate $100,000–150,000.
    By the famed Francesco Guardi, this previosuly unrecorded view of Venice appears to be the artist's earliest, pre-dating what had been considered his earliest veduta of 1758. The artist’s famously fast and fluid brush stroke technique is already at work in this atmospheric depiction the Grand Canal. At left is the Fondamenta di San Simeone and Giovanni Antonio Scalfarotto’s domed church of San Simeone Piccolo.  At right, in the foreground, the Baroque façade of Santa Maria di Nazareth, also called Chiesa degli Scalzi, can be seen and at right in the background, the façade of Santa Lucia, which was destroyed in 1860 to make way for the “Santa Lucia” railway station. 


  • Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto, Venice, A View Of The Equestrian Monument To Bartolomeo Colleoni And The Church Of Santi Giovanni E Paolo. Estimate $600,000—800,000.
    Canaletto painted this charming view shortly after his return to Venice following a highly successful sojourn in England.  For this unusual Venetian view, Canaletto selected the equestrian monument to military tactician Bartolomeo Colleoni as the composition's imposing protagonist. The artist depicted the sculpture from across the Rio dei Mendicanti and just slightly to the north, facing eastward. This angle permitted Canaletto to incorporate the east transept and dome of the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, yet the low viewpoint ensures the monument looms over the surrounding buildings and dominates the skyline.  

  • Apollonio Facchinetti, called Domenichini, formerly known as the Master of the Langmatt Foundation Views, Venice, A View Of San Geremia And The Entrance To The Cannaregio. Estimate $80,000–120,000.
    Among Domenichini's largest works, in this panoramic view the artist includes the balustrade in front of the church of San Geremia and the statue of the 14th century martyr, Saint John Nepomuk to the left of the entrance of the Canareggio, which provides a useful terminus post quem for this painting. The state was erected by Giovanni Marchiori in 1742 and thus the painting must have executed after that date. A similar composition by the artist, painted from the same viewpoint, though much smaller in dimensions and with variations in the arrangement of the gondolas, is offered in this sale, lot 60.

  • Apollonio Facchinetti, Called Domenichini, Formerly Known As The Master Of The Langmatt Foundation Views, Venice, A View Of The Grand Canal Towards The Rialto Bridge. Estimate $80,000–120,000.
    In this expansive painting by Domenichini, the Venetian facades along the canal recede into the horizon to form two dynamic lines, which meet at the iconic Rialto Bridge. A wonder and tourist attraction in the 18th century,  the bridge remains a symbol of the city and major attraction to this day.  

  • Francesco Guardi, Venice, A View Of The Piazzetta Looking South With The Palazzo Ducal, 1755-60. Estimate $500,000–700,000.
    Francesco Guardi depicts the bustling Piazzetta from the Campanile di San Marco, looking out at the Bacino di San Marco toward the Isola di San Giorgio. From this viewpoint he was able to take in the iconic façade of the Palazzo Ducale while incorporating the southern-most arch of the Basilica di San Marco at left and the columns of San Marco and San Teodoro to the right. This view once formed part of a set of four paintings made by Guardi around 1745-50, based on a group of Canaletto engravings, executed shortly prior in 1741-43. While the architectural templates and viewpoints adhere to Canaletto’s compositions of the early ‘40s, curiously Guardi’s brushwork harkens back to Canaletto’s much earlier paintings from around 1725-30 so while the present painting by Guardi, dates to 1755-60, it recalls a style of Canaletto from some thirty years earlier.

  • Circle of Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto, Venice, A View Of The Grand Canal Looking West Towards The Church Of The Santa Maria Della Salute,. Estimate $80,000–120,000.
    In this scene, Caneletto grants prominence to Santa Maria della Salute. The Baroque basilica has been an emblematic image of the Grand Canal and Venice since it was built in the 17th century to honor the tens of thousands that died of the plague. Every year, Venetians celebrate the plague’s end with the Feste della Madonna della Salute, a parade that leads from from San Marco to the church.

  • Circle of Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto Venice, A View Of The Grand Canal Looking West Towards The Church Of The Santa Maria Della Salute. Estimate $40,000–60,000.
    The popularity of depictions of Venice continued well into the 19th century. A generation younger than the vedute painters of the 18th century, Carlo Grubacs was among the leading artists who continued to capture the magical city for tourists through painting.

  • Michele Marieschi, Venice, A View Of The Grand Canal With Ca' Pesaro And Palazzo Foscarini-Giovanelli, From The Campiello Of The Palazzo Gussoni. Estimate $400,000–600,000.
    This tranquil depiction of the Grand Canal by Michele Marieschi has been a recent source of Venetian architectural historical investigation.  The paved shoreline at the right of the canvas is depicted from a viewpoint which, until recently, was presumed by scholars to have been the invention of the artist, since no such platform exists in this area of the Grand Canal today. In his 2016 monograph, scholar Dario Succi notes a list of traveling works from 1738–39, which makes mention of this little square. The campiello in question is in fact visible in a 1703 watercolour and subsequent print by Luca Carlevarijs, depicting the façade of Palazzo Gussoni. It is from precisely this point that Marieschi envisioned his composition.

  • Johann Richter, Venice, A Capriccio View Of The Grand Canal Towards The Punta Della Dogana. Estimate $100,000–150,000.
    This scene of the Grand Canal is a mix of real and imagined structures. While elements of Richter’s view are recognizable, the architecture depicted is in fact largely imagined. The artist painted the Dogana da Mar as it appeared at least fifty years earlier, prior to its renovation by Giuseppe Benoni in 1675. Rather than the elaborate Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute, at right a domed church of Richter’s own invention dominates the skyline. At a glance, however, the fictional building does not appear at all incongruous within the Venetian view, since it borrows architectural features from a variety of the city’s churches, including that of San Giorgio, Tolentino and the Redentore. The monument at left, another capriccio element, feels similarly appropriate, the winged lion being emblematic of the Republic of Venice.

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