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Oil painting - Capriccio with Two Bridges and Figures
  • Capriccio with Two Bridges and Figures
    Bellotto, Bernardo, born 1721 - died 1780
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Capriccio with Two Bridges and Figures

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Place of origin:

    Venice (possibly, painted)

  • Date:

    ca. 1740-1747 (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Bellotto, Bernardo, born 1721 - died 1780 (artist)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    Europe 1600-1815, Room 2a, case WW

Bernardo Belloto, sometimes called Canaletto (1721-1780) was born in Venice and trained there by his uncle, the view painter Giovan Antonio Canal called Canaletto (1693-1768). He became a member of the Venetian painters' guild, the Fraglia, in 1738. In the 1740s, he travelled in Italy (Florence, Lucca, Rome and in Lombardy). In 1747, Bellotto was invited to Dresden in 1747 by Frederick-Augustus II, King of Poland (as Augustus III). He went to Vienna in 1758, perhaps in response to an invitation, and to Munich in 1761. By the end of the same year he had returned to Dresden where he was made court painter in 1768. He had trained and worked with his son Lorenzo who died prematurely in 1770.

This painting is a good example of Bellotto's art of 'capriccio', which displays an elaborate construction partially based on previous compositions. The artist probably drew his inspirations from the surroundings of Verona and Padua in Italy, a region that he visited in the first half on the 1740s. The painting shows a fantasy town view with on the right a gatehouse and an archway, a Corinthian column surmounted by the statue of a saint and a woman drawing water from a fountain. On the left, a horse-drawn carriage is running on a bridge while in the background a raw of houses with a medieval tower recedes into the distance. Figures manoeuvring boats are depicted in the foreground.

Physical description

A town view showing on the right a gatehouse and an archway with a hanging lamp, a Corinthian column surmounted by the statue of a saint and at the feet of it, a woman drawing water from a fountain; on the left, a carriage running on a bridge and sails at the far left, in the background a raw of houses with a medieval tower receding into the distance, while figure are manoeuvring a rowboat in the immediate foreground.

Place of Origin

Venice (possibly, painted)


ca. 1740-1747 (painted)


Bellotto, Bernardo, born 1721 - died 1780 (artist)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas


Height: 37 cm Improvisatore, Width: 70.8 cm Improvisatore, Height: 49 cm gilt frame, Width: 85 cm gilt frame, Depth: 6 cm gilt frame

Object history note

Bequeathed by Rev. Chauncy Hare Townshend, 1868
Ref : Parkinson, Ronald, Catalogue of British Oil Paintings 1820-1860. Victoria & Albert Museum, HMSO, London, 1990. p.xix.

'Chauncy Hare Townshend (1798-1868) was born into a wealthy family, only son of Henry Hare Townsend of Busbridge Hall, Godalming, Surrey. Educated at Eton and Trinity Hall, Cambridge (BA 1821). Succeeded to the family estates 1827, when he added 'h' to the Townsend name. He had taken holy orders, but while he always referred to himself as 'Rev.' on the title pages of his books, he never practised his vocation... . Very much a dilettante in the eighteenth-century sense, he moved in the highest social and literary circles; a great friend of Charles Dickens (he was the dedicatee of Great Expectations) with whom he shared a fascination of mesmerism... Bulwer Lytton described his life's 'Beau-deal of happiness' as 'elegant rest, travel, lots of money - and he is always ill and melancholy'. Of the many watercolours and British and continental oil paintings he bequeathed to the V&A, the majority are landscapes. He is the first identifiable British collector of early photographs apart from the Prince Consort, particularly landscape photography, and also collected gems and geological specimens.'

Historical significance: The attribution to Bernardo Bellotto, Canaletto's nephew, was accepted by Michael Levey (note on file, after a visit on 7 September 1960), who suggested a date of 1740-7. It appears to be a good example of Bellotto's works of the mid-1740 when he was working on the four 'capricci', formerly in Sanvitale collection, now in the Galleria Nazionale, Parma, just before his departure for Dresden. These are based on drawings that reproduce identical motifs as those depicted here.
The present work shows the gate of a town with an arched bridge leading into it on the left and a gatehouse adjacent to a large archway on the right. The picture is dominated by Veronese and Paduan motifs such as the house flanked by a medieval tower, similar to the Paduan Ezzelino tower, in the middle background, while the right hand-side of the composition is taken from a drawing with variations in the Royal Collection (RL 7530/P[C]126). The bridge and the tower appear in another 'capriccio' of the early 1740s, in the Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, Castagnola.
The present composition contrasts neutral tones against vivid colours and as light against shade. The solid and imposing architectural setting is inhabited by small figures: a woman drawing water, men in boats and a carriage drawn by horses. The restricted palette of blue, brown and neutral tones is enlivened by small touches of red in the vest of the woman next to the fountain, the man on the boat and the carriage. The gatehouse and the archway are unified by large passages of shadow that enhance their function as repoussoir device in order to lead the spectator's eye into the picture, while patches of light around the archway enhance the sense of depth.
It has been suggested that this painting was intended as a pendant to Canaletto's 'capriccio' also bequeathed by C.H. Townshend (1352-1869) (Kowalczyk, 2008).

Historical context note

A 'capriccio' is a painted, drawn or engraved composition that combines imaginary and realistic architectural features in a picturesque setting, often dotted with small figures, and mostly displayed as wall schemes for interior decoration. It emerges as a genre during the early 18th-century Rococo period, and became extremely popular during the era of the Grand Tour, stimulated by the need of recording topographical settings. The Italian landscape, which abounded with classical ruins, was especially favoured for this new genre painting. It particularly developed in Venice with such artists as Marco Ricci (1676-1730) and his uncle Sebastiano Ricci (1659-1734), together with Canaletto (1697-1768), Giambattista Pittoni (1687-1767) and Giovanni Battista Piazzetta (1682-1754), and in Rome where Giovanni Paolo Panini (ca. 1692-1765) was the most representative of the 'capriccio' painters. The genre declined during the early part of the next century, gradually transformed and was eventually absorbed by the Romanticism.

Descriptive line

Oil on canvas, 'Capriccio with Two Bridges and Figures', Bernardo Bellotto (also called Canaletto), ca. 1740-1747

Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)

Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800. London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 26-27, cat. no. 21
Kowalczyk, Bożena Anna (ed.), Canaletto e Bellotto : l'arte della veduta, Cinisello Balsamo, Milano : Silvana, 2008
M. Levey, 'Bernardo Bellotto. By Stefan Kozakiewicz', The Burlington Magazine, September 1973, p. 615.
E. Camesasca, L'opera completa del Bellotto, Milan, 1974, p. 95, no. 69.


Oil; Canvas



Subjects depicted

Figures; Boat; Carriage; Houses; Tower; Bridge; Archway




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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