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Italian Painter

Canaletto Photo
Movements and Styles: The Baroque, The Rococo

Born: October 28, 1697 - Venice, Italy

Died: April 19, 1768 - Venice, Italy

"He paints with such accuracy and cunning that the eye is deceived and truly believes it is the real thing it sees, not a painting."

G.P. Guarienti

Summary of Canaletto

Canaletto was a sophisticated and prolific Italian painter known primarily for his vivid topographies of Venice, Rome, and London. Much more than a formulaic guildsman, there is a unique quality to his work which can be attributed to the fact that he was able to seamlessly blend real and imagined words to beguiling effect. His 'tourist" paintings, which were much sought after by the traveling upper-classes, were meticulously prepared, with his chief concern being for compositional harmony rather than dogmatic geographic accuracy. In his later career Canaletto augmented his painting output with an important series of "real-time" etchings of such fine quality that they influenced the next generation of English landscapists. Having further cemented his early reputation while working in England, Canaletto returned to Venice where he finished his career painting more intimate cityscapes in the light and frivolous Rococo style.

Key Ideas

With an eye for compositional balance, and a feel for dramatic effects, Canaletto typically composed images of recognizable landmarks which he would rearranged in subtle new relationships (capriccio). His images could also be composed, in part, of imaginary architectural and scenic elements (veduta ideata).
As an heir to the legacy of the great Renaissance masters, Canaletto was admired for his subtle blending of sunlight, shadow and cloud effects, and his play of light on architectural structures. Much of his preparation work was carried out "on location" (rather than in the studio); an artistic predilection that was considered highly unusual for that time.
The fine detail in Canaletto's renderings of architectural structures is attributed to his use of a camera obscura which enabled his to create traceable blueprints on which to build up his finely detailed topographies.
Canaletto produced a series of some 30 influential etchings. His drawings (on paper) were considered exceptionally skilful and sensitive, showing a total command of perspective and luminosity.
Canaletto Photo

Only limited biographical details exist about Giovanni Antonio Canal, the artist better known as Canaletto. His parents, mother Artemisia Barbieri, and father Bernardo Canal (the mononym Canaletto simple means "Little Canal"), were members of an upper-class Venetian society which, according to art historian and Canaletto specialist, Bożena Anna Kowalczyk, included "noblemen and attadini originarii ('original citizens')." Canaletto was in fact proud of his ancestry and would later boast of depicting "the Canal family's coat of arms (a silver shield surmounted by a blue roe) into the works he was especially proud of." Indeed, in seeking to authenticate an unsigned and undated painting gifted to the University of Aberdeen (known only as "Ruins of the Temple") Art Historian John Gash, and leading Canaletto scholar Charles Beddington, were able to authenticate the painting of Roman ruins by this means. As Gash was able to explain, "Occasionally, Canaletto did sign his works but not in this example. However in the middle of the painting is a ruin which displays the coat of arms of his family. It's unlikely someone else would include that, so it acts as a kind of surrogate signature."

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