Press release (14 December 2016) from the Royal Collection Trust:
Canaletto and the Art of Venice
The Queen’s Gallery, Buckingham Palace, London, 19 May — 12 November 2017
The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, Edinburgh, TBA
In 1762 the young monarch George III purchased virtually the entire collection of Joseph Smith, the greatest patron of art in Venice at the time. Thanks to this single acquisition, the Royal Collection contains one of the finest groups of 18th-century Venetian art in the world, including the largest collection of works by Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto.
Through over 200 paintings, drawings, and prints from the Royal Collection’s exceptional holdings, Canaletto and the Art of Venice presents the work of Venice’s most famous view-painter alongside that of his contemporaries, including Sebastiano and Marco Ricci, Rosalba Carriera, Francesco Zuccarelli, Giovanni Battista Piazzetta, and Pietro Longhi and explores how they captured the essence and allure of Venice for their 18th-century audience, as they still do today.
Joseph Smith (c.1674−1770) was an English merchant and later British Consul in Venice, a post dealing with Britain’s maritime, commercial, and trading interests. He had moved to Italy in around 1700 and over several decades built up an outstanding art collection, acting as both patron and dealer to many contemporary Venetian artists. Smith was Canaletto’s principal agent, selling his paintings to the wealthy Grand Tourists who were drawn to Venice’s cultural attractions. His palazzo on the Grand Canal became a meeting place for collectors, patrons, scholars, and tourists, where visitors could admire his vast collection and commission their own versions of Canaletto’s views to take home.
One of the most important of Smith’s commissions from Canaletto was the series of 12 paintings of the Grand Canal, which together create a near complete journey down the waterway. Canaletto’s sharp-eyed precision makes these views seem powerfully real; yet he rearranged and altered elements of each composition to create ideal impressions of the city. Two larger paintings are of festivals, including the ‘Sposalizio del Mar’, or ‘Wedding of the Sea’, which took place on Ascension Day and attracted crowds of British visitors. The Grand Canal was a subject frequently captured by Canaletto, including in a series of six drawings, among them Venice: The central stretch of the Grand Canal, c.1734. Intended as works of art in their own right, rather than as preparatory studies for paintings, the drawings are carefully constructed and rich in tone and detail.
Alongside the grand public entertainments, Venice boasted a thriving opera and theatre scene, especially during carnival season. The need to create stage sets within a very short period of time provided plentiful employment for Venetian artists. Both Marco Ricci and Canaletto worked for the theatre, where they learned how to manipulate perspective to heighten drama. The exhibition includes several of Ricci’s designs for the Venetian stage, such as A room with a balcony supported by Atlantes, c.1726. Marco Ricci also produced caricatures of opera singers, such as the drawing of the internationally famed castrato Farinelli, which were circulated among Joseph Smith and his fellow Venetian collectors and opera aficionados.
On display together for the first time are personifications of the Four Seasons by Rosalba Carriera, whose pastels were highly prized by European collectors. They were intended to be hung in private domestic spaces, such as dressing rooms, bedrooms, or small antechambers. Carriera was one of the first artists to develop a commercial relationship with Joseph Smith, and her sensual pastel of Winter, c.1726, an allegorical female figure wrapped in furs, was one of the most admired works in Smith’s collection.
Canaletto, Marco Ricci, and Francesco Zuccarelli all contributed to the development of the genre known as the capriccio—scenes combining real and imaginary architecture, often set in an invented landscape, to create poetically evocative works. Ruins of ancient Rome in both Ricci’s Caprice View with Roman Ruins, c.1729, and Zuccarelli’s pastoral Landscape with Classical Ruins, Cattle and Figures, c.1741–42, convey a sense of the irrevocable loss of a great age.
There was a major revival in printmaking in Venice in the 18th century, with many publishers recruiting established artists, such as Giovanni Battista Piazzetta and Antonio Visentini, to provide designs for their publications. Joseph Smith was an enthusiastic print collector and one of the major supporters of contemporary printmaking in Venice. Smith financed and directed the Pasquali press, which contributed to the circulation of Enlightenment ideas, such as those of Isaac Newton, and imported banned foreign texts into Venice, including the work of Voltaire. Visentini was the chief draughtsman for the press, providing many hundreds of pen and ink drawings of initials and tailpieces, several of which will be on display in the exhibition.
The catalogue is distributed by The University of Chicago Press:
Lucy Whitaker and Rosie Razzall, Canaletto and the Art of Venice (London: Royal Collection Trust, 2017), 320 pages, ISBN: 978 190974 1409, $60.
Sérénissime! Venise en fête, de Tiepolo à Guardi
La Serenissima: Celebrating Venice, from Tiepelo to Guardi
Musée Cognacq-Jay, Paris, 25 February — 25 June 2017
Curated by Rose-Marie Herda-Mousseaux and Benjamin Couilleaux
In the eighteenth century, the political and economic stability of the Serenissima Repubblica di Venezia gave rise to the last golden age of Venice, which would end with the Napoleonic conquest of 1797. This last chapter of a millenary history was marked by an unprecedented deployment of public and private events. Festivities, celebrations, regattas, and other spectacles set the tempo of city life and attracted the curious from all over Europe. Much more than simple amusements, these festivities were part of a political and religious pageant designed to promote Venice. Immortalized by some of the great names in painting—Tiepolo, Guardi, Longhi—they created a lasting impression and made known the charms of the City of the Doges throughout Europe. Over forty paintings, engravings, and drawings from prestigious French and European collections are presented to the public, bringing to life once again, for the duration of the exhibition, the opulence of the Most Serene Republic of Venice in the Age of Enlightenment.
The exhibition layout focuses on four themes related to Venetian celebrations:
Festivities Large and Small
Dance and music were highly esteemed by Venetian society, among both the aristocracy and the people.
From City to Stage
In the eighteenth century, the commedia dell’arte achieved unprecedented popularity, in particular with playwright Carlo Goldoni. Opera also benefited from majestic settings, the most famous of which is still La Fenice.
Power as Spectacle
Both secular and sacred institutions in the Most Serene Republic encouraged the crowds to attend major festivities that crystallized the image of Venice as a powerful and sumptuous city. Receptions for foreign princes, notably French, also provided an opportunity to organize extraordinary celebrations on Piazza San Marco or the Grand Canal.
At the Carnival
What would Venice be without its carnival? Dating from the Middle Ages, this colorful masked festival brought together an eighteenth-century cosmopolitan crowd that loved the open-air fairground attractions as much as it did the more discreet amusements of the Ridotto, the ancestor of the casino.
Rose-Marie Herda-Mousseaux and Benjamin Couilleaux, Sérénissime: Venise en fête, de Tiepolo à Guardi (Paris: Editions Paris Musées, 2017), 176 pages, ISBN: 978 27596 03428, 30€.