Born in Venice in 1722, Bellotto had a precocious talent. He received his earliest training with his uncle, the celebrated view painter Canaletto, from about 1735 onwards, and was accepted into the Fraglia dei Pittori (Venetian painters’ guild) at the age of just 16. In the 1740s Bellotto travelled extensively around the Italian peninsula, producing views of various cities including Florence, Rome, Verona and Turin. He was called to Dresden in 1747, and the subsequent year was appointed Court Painter to Augustus III, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony. Following the escalation of the Seven Years’ War around 1758, Bellotto worked at the courts of Vienna (ca. 1758/59–1761) and Munich (1761), before returning again to Dresden (1761–66). He spent the last 13 years of his life in Warsaw, at the court of Augustus III’s successor as King of Poland, King Stanislaus II August Poniatowski.
Bellotto tends towards a more silvery light than Canaletto, as well as a cooler palette and a greater sense of monumentality. Even when one of his compositions derived from a painting by his uncle, Bellotto tended to increase it in both size and scale. One of the most distinctive elements of his pictures is his use of impasto, particularly in the sky, where broad brushstrokes denote clouds and changing light on the horizon.
Today, Bellotto is best known for his views of northern European cities, which are considered his greatest achievements. These works are characterised by panoramic compositions, strongly contrasted use of light and shadow, and meticulous attention to architectural detail. Such was Bellotto’s precision that his late views of Warsaw played a crucial role in that city’s reconstruction after the Second World War. He sometimes signed himself Bellotto de Canaletto, and is therefore known in some places as Canaletto.