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Oil painting - Venice: The Piazzetta
  • Venice: The Piazzetta
    Canaletto, Giovanni Antonio, born 1697 - died 1768
  • Enlarge image

Venice: The Piazzetta

  • Object:

    Oil painting

  • Date:

    early 19th century (painted)

  • Artist/Maker:

    Canaletto, Giovanni Antonio, born 1697 - died 1768 (after)

  • Materials and Techniques:

    Oil on canvas

  • Credit Line:

    Bequeathed by John M. Parsons

  • Museum number:


  • Gallery location:

    On short term loan out for exhibition

Giovanni Antonio Canal called Canaletto (1697-1867) was born in Venice and trained there by his father, Bernardo Canal, a theatrical scenery painter, and his uncle, Cristoforo. He accompanied them to Rome where he remained a few months, maybe more, and directed his artistic development towards view paintings including fantasy views and landscapes while gradually working his way into realistic view painting. He was a member of the Venetian painters' guild, the Fraglia, in 1720. He moved to England in 1746 and remained there until at least 1755, a sojourn interrupted by short visits to Venice. He trained his nephew, the view painter Bernardo Bellotto (1721-1780), who became a member of the Fraglia in 1738, and perhaps Michele Marieschi (1696-1743) and Francesco Guardi (1712-1793). He also had a certain influence on the English school of painting, especially Samuel Scott, and had established the vogue for views of London.

This painting is an early 19th-century copy after an engraved composition by Canaletto, dated 1735-46, just before his departure to England. It shows a palace designed by Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570), which housed the national library (Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana) and the ancient Mint (Zecca) while the base of the Campanile is at the far right. Very close to Canaletto's art of painting, this composition documented the early 1740s topography of Venice as well as the lifestyle of the Venetian society.

Physical description

On the right, a two-storey palace surmounted by statues and obelisks, and part of the base of the campanile San Marco; in the background a statue on the top of a column with a puppet theatre next by; in between, S. Marco's square scattered with small figures.


early 19th century (painted)


Canaletto, Giovanni Antonio, born 1697 - died 1768 (after)

Materials and Techniques

Oil on canvas


Height: 47 cm estimate, Width: 73.6 cm estimate, :

Object history note

Bequeathed by John M. Parsons, 1870
John Meeson Parsons (1798-1870), art collector, was born in Newport, Shropshire. He later settled in London, and became a member of the stock exchange. His interest in railways led to his election as an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1839, and he was director or chairman of two railway companies between 1843 and 1848. Much of his time however was spent collecting pictures and works of art. In his will he offered his collection of mostly German and Dutch schools to the National Gallery (which selected only three works) and to the Department of Science and Art at South Kensington, later the Victoria and Albert Museum. The South Kensington Museum acquired ninety-two oil paintings and forty-seven watercolours. A number of engravings were also left to the British Museum.

Historical significance: Originally attributed to Canaletto, this painting forms a pair with 557-187. It is probably a copy made in the first half of the 19th century after an etching by Canaletto of around 1735-1746 (impression in the British Museum, London, 1838,0526.4.15).

This view of the Piazza San Marco in Venice shows the Library of St. Marks designed by Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570). On the far left is the corner column of the Basilica of San Marco and the pedestal from which proclamations were read (piera del bando). On the far right is part of the base of the campanile (Loggetta) In the distance, a puppet theatre near the column of S. Teodoro entertains a small crowd of people.

The scene is depicted bathed in bright sunlight with a restricted palette of brown, white and blue enlivened by touches of red in the costume of some figures. In comparison with the etching, some figures are missing, a group of people sitting around a table are substituted with fewer standing figures, and the chimney tops above the palace no longer appear.

Historical context note

Giovanni Antonio Canal, known as Canaletto (1697-1768), was born in Venice, where he trained under his father, Bernardo Canal, a theatrical scenery painter, and his uncle, Cristoforo. He briefly visited Rome in 1719-20, and shortly afterwards turned to view painting, strongly influenced by Luca Carlevarijs (1663-1730). He became a member of the Venetian painters' guild in 1720 and spent the years 1746-55, with interrputions, in England. His nephew and pupil was the view painter Bernardo Bellotto (1721-1780). Michele Marieschi (1696-1743) and Francesco Guardi (1712-1793) may also have been his students. He worked much for English patrons, and was influential upon English painters such as Samuel Scott. Canaletto's pictures were widely copied from the 18th century by artists including Antonio Joli and William James.

A 'veduta' is a painted, drawn or engraved composition representing a landscape or a town, largely topographical in conception. These were particularly popular during the era of the Grand Tour. Such painters were known as 'vedutisti' and sometimes employed a 'camera obscura', a box with a small hole used as an optical device, to capture effects of scenery. The 'veduta' eventually succumbed to the invention of photography.

Descriptive line

Oil painting, 'Venice: The Piazzetta', after Canaletto, early 19th century

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

Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 54, cat. no. 56.
R. Bromberg, Canaletto's etching. revised and enlarged edition of the catalogue raisonné, San Francisco, 1993, no. 18, pp. 108-110.
Alexandre de Vesme, Le peintre-graveur italien, Milan, 1906, no. 15.


Oil paint; Canvas


Oil painting

Subjects depicted

Obelisk; Figures; Theatre; Statues; Campanile




Prints, Drawings & Paintings Collection

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