Canaletto’s sweeping view takes in everyday life on the Grand Canal. A stout helmsman stands aboard a finely decorated passenger barge to the left, while fishermen draw their nets in the centre. A boat carrying two women seems about to collide with one of the fishing vessels.
Across the canal to the left is the imposing church of San Simeone Piccolo, with its green copper dome. The church was inaugurated in April 1738, and Canaletto probably painted this view sometime afterwards – though there’s still a workmen’s hut beside the steps. Women and children gather nearby, and several other figures take a look at the new church.
The painting’s grand scale – it’s over two metres wide – is matched by the careful observation of crisp details, light effects and varied textures: shimmering roof tiles, crumbling facades and delicate ripples and reflections on the water.
Canaletto’s sweeping and dramatic view takes in everyday life on the Grand Canal. A stout helmsman stands aboard a finely decorated passenger barge, or burchiello, coming into view to the left. Fishermen draw their nets in the centre, but a boat carrying two women looks like it is about to collide with one of their vessels (the man looking out at us seems not to notice). Gondolas are scattered over the water, and moored to quays here and there; to the bottom right a smartly dressed man and his companions occupy a craft being rowed out of view.
The painting’s grand scale – it’s over two metres wide – is matched by the careful observation of crisp details, light effects and varied textures. Roof tiles shimmer in the low sunlight, as do the delicate ripples and reflections on the water’s surface. Detailed brushwork describes the crumbling facades in rich pinks, ochre, pale blue and white, while the shadowed buildings are painted in softer tones and flatter paint.
Across the canal to the left is the imposing church of San Simeone Piccolo with its green copper dome, which still stands today. This impressive structure was rebuilt between 1718 and 1738 by the architect Giovanni Scalfarotto, following the demolition of the former ninth-century church. The church was inaugurated in April 1738 and Canaletto probably painted this view sometime afterwards – though there’s still a workmen’s hut beside the steps. Nearby, women and children gather in front of houses with weathered façades, and several other figures take a look at the new church.
Further along, on the same side as San Simeone Piccolo, we see the Ponte della Croce, also known as the ponte della zirada (‘bridge of the turn’) because it is where gondoliers competing in the regatta would turn to race towards the finish. Beyond this, with a plain facade, is the church of Santa Croce. The church of Santa Maria di Nazareth, known as the church of the Scalzi or ‘shoeless’ after the barefoot friars who founded it, appears in the foreground to the right. A small group stands outside the Scalzi, watched by a woman in a yellow shawl and – from the window of a nearby house – two others.
Today our view along the canal is very different. Santa Croce was demolished in 1810, and its site is now occupied by the Papadopoli Gardens. The buildings beyond the Scalzi, including the church of Santa Lucia shown here with decaying plaster walls, were demolished in 1861 to make way for the railway station. The foreground is now obscured by the Ponte degli Scalzi, built in 1858.
There are no surviving drawings of this particular scene by Canaletto, but two studies in the Royal Collection at Windsor depict the same stretch of the canal from different viewpoints. The National Gallery also owns paintings of these views by an unknown follower of Canaletto: Upper reaches of the Grand Canal facing Santa Croce shows the church of San Simeone Piccolo from the opposite side, while another depicts a frontal view of the church from across the canal.
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