BA for Canaletto


1697 - 1768

Why is it that Italian painters called themselves something different to the name they were born with? Michelangelo did it and so did Canaletto. It was probably an action taken out of vanity or for reasons of publicity. Just as pop stars today change their names to give a better impression to their public, so these painters, all too eager for good publicity and to attract wealthy patrons, decided that their name was far too mundane and so changed it.

Who would, after all take any notice of someone called Canale, especially when they lived in Venice, the city of canals. Canaletto sounds much more imposing. Canaletto was dependent on wealthy patrons to whom he sold his paintings, especially the English gentry wanting to impress their friends with a record of their Grand Tour of Europe. Paintings of the Grand Canal in Venice, with its wealth of interesting buildings, became prized possessions and Canaletto certainly had a prodigious output. It is debatable whether he actually painted every single painting, or merely drew the sketches and then took them back to his studio to be finished by his apprentices or a member of his family.

There is no doubt that Canaletto was a brilliant master of the architectural sketch, but why are some of the buildings in different places in the finished paintings? This must surely be to create a better effect and cram in all the buildings that the traveller may have wanted to brag about visiting. Even the Grand Canal itself was not immune from being stretched and straightened a little to show the buildings round the corner. Many of the views are from first floor and not ground level where the original sketches were made, a view of course rarely seen by the traveller in a gondola.

As the stream of wealthy patrons visiting Venice began to dry up Canaletto moved to Rome in order to continue selling his paintings and support his family. But even Rome began to be unfashionable and he decided to go to England, where he lived for ten years. Society patrons were all too eager to have their houses portrayed by this flamboyant Italian, and there are many views of London and the surrounding areas, showing a city of wide open spaces overlooked by the houses of the gentry. Quite a different aspect of London to that of Hogarth, who specialised in the more seedy side, giving possibly more accurate description of the city.

When Canaletto died nine hundred paintings were found to have been produced, surely an impossible feat for just one man. So did he paint all the paintings that have been attributed to him? © GMH

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