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A Regatta on the Grand Canal
Canaletto
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We have a magnificent view of the Grand Canal in Venice during the annual regatta, which was held on 2 February and attracted large numbers of visitors each year. All eyes are on the one-oared gondolas racing up the middle of the canal. Just right of centre two craft swing around the bend, tilted and almost touching, trying to catch up with the leaders. Another boat follows on the far right. Spectators cheer from windows and balconies, from gondolas and lavishly decorated bissone (eight- or ten-oared boats).

Canaletto has captured the drama of the event, with spectators and architecture laid out at a steep angle that recedes sharply into the distance and focuses our eye on the race. The animated crowd and the boats jostling for position help to create a feeling of excitement, while the ripples on the canal’s surface, which may look sketchy close up, give the water depth and movement from a distance.

Key facts
Artist Canaletto
Artist dates 1697 - 1768
Full title A Regatta on the Grand Canal
Group Two Venetian Ceremonial Scenes
Date made about 1740
Medium and support Oil on canvas
Dimensions 122.1 x 182.8 cm
Acquisition credit Bequeathed by Lord Revelstoke, 1929
Inventory number NG4454
Location in Gallery Room 38
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Two Venetian Ceremonial Scenes

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This pair of paintings – A Regatta on the Grand Canal and The Basin of San Marco on Ascension Day – captures two of the most popular annual festivals in eighteenth-century Venice: the gondola races and the Wedding of the Sea ceremony. Both fell into decline during the late eighteenth century but were revived in 1965 and are still enjoyed today.

Both events celebrate the history of the Venetian Republic. The regatta commemorates a naval victory against the forces of Dalmatia (modern-day Croatia) around the year 1000; the Wedding of the Sea relates to a peace treaty of 1178 between the Holy Roman Empire and the papacy, witnessed by the Doge (elected head) of Venice. He received a blessed ring from the Pope.

The paintings were made around 1740, when Canaletto produced his most commercially successful works. They were designed to appeal to wealthy foreign visitors as a reminder of Venice’s outstanding beauty and unique entertainments.

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