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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Canaletto's Venice

Imagine rendering a detailed painting of Times Square on New Year's Eve, or a similar scene of a Presidential Inauguration in oils on canvas. Everything must be there in infinite detail, from the hot-dog vendor in the foreground to the lady atop the Capitol dome in the background.  Even if the canvas was measured in feet rather than inches the task would still be least to modern day artists. Of course today, with photography, no one would bother, even though the use of photographs would make the task quite a great deal less difficult. But one artist, the Venetian painter, Giovanni Antonio Canal, best known by his signature, Canaletto, did just such a painting.

The work is entitled Return of the Bucentoro to the Molo on Ascension Day. It was painted in 1732, and not only did the artist accomplish everything outlined above, but this painting is not at all unique. He made a habit of it, building a very successful career around just such enormously detailed works. The painting is large, nearly 12 by 14 feet, but into it is crammed such exquisite detail, such ornate decoration, such a wonderful sense of movement and activity, that the effect is nothing less than breathtaking. It's all there, all the architecture including the mint, the library, Sansovino's towering Campanile, St.  Mark's Cathedral, The Doge's Palace, arrayed in glorious sunshine against what can only be called a truly Venetian sky. And that's just the background.

Return of the Bucentoro to the Molo on Ascension Day,
1732, Caneletto
 The real action is on the water as the Doge's barge moves along the Grand Canal accompanied by a flotilla of other ornately carved and gilded gondolas all heavily populated with figures from rowers to royalty. Every figure has a highly decorated costume, a face, and is actively involved in some activity. In fact, everything appears to move, flags wave, the water glistens, the boats glide in what seems to be a painted extravaganza to end all painted extravaganzas. Every detail is done from on-site drawings yet the whole perspective is straight from Caneletto's imagination. There is no building or quay where he could possibly have set up an easel and painted the magnificent celebration. Today, Venice is, without doubt, the most romantic city in Europe, perhaps the whole world, and if this artist wasn't singlehandedly responsible for making it so, he can be said to have at least played a major role in fostering that image.

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