Sharply silhouetted against a pale evening sky is the Saxon fortress of Königstein.
Bernardo Bellotto (1722–1780) painted this historic site – a stronghold located approximately 25 miles south-east of Dresden, in the picturesque Elbe valley – not just once, but five times. In this exhibition, we reunite these five monumental views, which includes our recently acquired view from the north, for the first time in more than 250 years.
Painted at the height of Bellotto’s career, when he was court painter to August III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, these views were commissioned as part of a larger series of 30 views of Dresden and its surroundings.
The five paintings of Königstein show the ancient fortress from outside its forbidding walls as well as from within. Bellotto succeeds in capturing both the drama and detail of this commanding site, on canvases measuring more than two metres wide. Stand back and you can see the sharp, angular forms of the fortress, but look closely and you can make out the crumbling stone walls, tiny soldiers on the ramparts and women hanging washing in the courtyard.
For many years Bellotto was overlooked, in favour of his more famous uncle and master, Canaletto, but today he is recognised as one of the most distinctive artistic personalities of the 18th century. Applying what he had learnt in Venice to his highly original panoramic depictions of northern Europe, Bellotto took the tradition of view painting in an entirely new direction.