This work is almost a portrait of a building: the imposing facade of the Palazzo Grimani fills nearly the entire composition. Boatmen emerge from the left and right just in front of us, adding a sense of movement, while figures composed of dots and daubs of paint stand on the palace’s steps.
Palazzo Grimani, built between 1556 and 1575 for Gerolamo Grimani, the procurator of San Marco, was one of the outstanding buildings of Renaissance Venice. It was admired during the eighteenth century and included in Antonio Visentini’s Admiranda Urbis Venetae, a series of architectural drawings of Venetian palaces.
We don't know exactly when Canaletto painted this, but it was probably after his return to Venice from London in 1755; he died in 1768. He liked to work on a smaller scale during his mature years, and his touch became lighter and freer, with architectural details consisting of black outlines and muted colours applied with great assurance.
This work is almost a portrait of a building: the imposing facade of the Palazzo Grimani fills nearly the entire composition, towering above the surrounding houses along the Grand Canal. Boatmen emerge from the left and right just in front of us, giving the scene a sense of movement. Further back we can just make out several figures on the steps of the palace, one in a cloak beneath a grand archway and another on the balcony above – all made up of dots and daubs of paint.
Palazzo Grimani was one of the outstanding buildings of Renaissance Venice, and was one of many properties owned by the illustrious Grimani family, who played a prominent role in the life of the city. The palace was built between 1556 and 1575 for Gerolamo Grimani, the procurator of San Marco (a government official), and designed by the architect Michele Sanmicheli as his Venetian masterpiece. After Sanmicheli’s death, it was completed by Gian Giacomo de‘ Grigi, who added the third storey.
The palace was much admired during the eighteenth century. Antonio Visentini, Italian architect and engraver, illustrated it in his Admiranda Urbis Venetae, a series of architectural drawings of Venetian palaces, made between 1745 and 1755. Canaletto would certainly have been aware of these drawings, which were commissioned by Joseph Smith, British consul in Venice and the artist’s most devoted patron (they are now in the British Library, London). This picture is one of a group of views of individual palaces – for example, Palazzo Vendramin-Calergi, Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Grande, Palazzo Pesaro and Palazzo Balbi – painted by Canaletto during his mature years spanning the late 1750s. While Canaletto’s views are not strictly architectural records like Visentini’s drawings, he must have been responding to a demand for specific representations of these landmarks.
We don‘t know exactly when Canaletto painted Palazzo Grimani, but it was probably after his return to Venice from London in 1755; he died in 1768. He liked to work on a smaller scale during his mature years – see Piazza San Marco and Piazza San Marco and the Colonnade of the Procuratie Nuove, which were painted around the same time – perhaps influenced by the demands of those who bought his pictures. His touch became lighter and freer, and he used strict dark outlines to create architectural details and muted colours applied with great assurance.
In 1806 the Palazzo Grimani became the main post office in Venice. In his book The Stones of Venice, first published in 1853, the English historian and art critic John Ruskin praised the building’s delicate decoration, symmetry and colossal scale – ’not a erring line, nor a mistaken proportion, throughout its noble front‘ – even calling it one of the greatest ’Roman Renaissance' buildings in Europe. Today the building remains a notable landmark as the Court of Appeal.
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