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Piazza San Marco
late 1720s
Oil on canvas

27 x 44 1/4 inches
Purchase, Mrs. Charles Wrightsman Gift, 1988

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Canaletto, (Giovanni Antonio Canal), Italian, (1697-1768)
Piazza San Marco, late 1720s

Piazza San Marco, the principal square of Venice, was a subject Canaletto favored in his youth: he painted at least a dozen views of it in the 1720s and 1730s (Fahy 2005, pp. 59–60). The basilica of Saint Mark’s, built and rebuilt over three centuries beginning in the year 830, stands at the east end of the square. To the right rises the Campanile, begun in the ninth century and rebuilt after it collapsed in 1902. Farther to the right is a glimpse of the Doges’ Palace. The long building on the left, running along the north side of the square, is the Procuratie Vecchie, erected in 1514, which served as the residence for the nine Procurators of San Marco, the chief magistrates of the Republic of Venice. Facing it, on the south side of the square, is the Procuratie Nuove, built between 1580 and 1640 by Palladio’s pupil Vincenzo Scamozzi (1552–1616).

Canaletto’s vantage point for the scene was a window on an upper floor of the Procuratie Vecchie, slightly to the north of the center line of the piazza, where the Procuratie abutted San Geminiano, the small church that was demolished in 1807 to make way for the Napoleonic wing of the Palazzo Reale. A virtually identical view (MMA 57.618) appears in Le fabriche, e vedute di Venetia, an album of 104 etchings by Luca Carlevaris (1663–1730), which was published in 1703. While the foreshortening of the architecture is the same in both scenes, the cast shadows in the etching indicate early morning.

This painting dates from the late 1720s. Its crisp style and blond tonality followed the ominous atmosphere of Canaletto’s large view now in the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, which can be dated precisely because it shows the piazza only partly covered with the stone paving that was laid between 1725 and 1727. In the MMA picture, the pavement, with its white geometric pattern, is complete. It thus predates views of the piazza in the series of twenty-four Canaletto’s in the collection of the Duke of Bedford at Woburn Abbey, of the mid-1730s, as well as those in the set of eight canvases in the Fitzwilliam collection at Milton Park. Unlike most of Canaletto’s views of the piazza, the MMA painting does not seem to have had a pendant or to have formed part of a series.

[2011 adapted from Fahy 2005]

Collection Record: Canaletto, Piazza San Marco, Metropolitan Museum of Art


Canaletto, (Giovanni Antonio Canal), Italian, (1697-1768)
b. October 18, 1697, Venice
d. 1768

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