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Image of Gallery in South Kensington
On display at V&A South Kensington
Europe 1600-1815, Room 2a

Capriccio: Ruined Bridge with Figures

Oil Painting
1745-1746 (painted)
Artist/Maker
Place Of Origin

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 (ca.1702-1772), and established the vogue for views of London.

This painting is a remarkable example of Canaletto's 'capricci', i.e. fantasy views, he produced during his career along with more realistic views. This work shows a ruined bridge with a tower and a gatehouse on the right, an archway with a Corinthian column surmounted by the statue of a ram or a sheep on the left and, beyond the bridge, a city receding into the distance while small figures are walking around. Particularly interesting is the pictorial rendering of light enlivened by strong shadows and a wide range of tones from warm to cool nuances in a free brushwork that suggests rather than delineates the forms.


object details
Category
Object Type
Materials and Techniques
Oil on canvas
Brief Description
Oil painting, 'Capriccio: Ruined Bridge with Figures', Canaletto, 1745-1746
Physical Description
A ruined bridge with a tower and a gatehouse on the right, an archway with a Corinthian column surmounted by the statue of a ram or a sheep on the left and, beyond the bridge, a city receding into the distance while small figures are walking around.
Dimensions
  • Estimate height: 35cm
  • Estimate width: 68.5cm
  • Europe galleries frame height: 490mm
  • Europe galleries frame width: 830mm
  • Europe galleries frame depth: 80mm
Dimensions taken from C.M. Kauffmann, Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1973.
Style
Marks and Inscriptions
'Canaletti the Unkle or elder pinxit Venetiae 174-' (Inscribed, in an 18th-century hand, on a label on the stretcher)
Credit line
Bequeathed by Rev., Chauncy Hare Townshend
Object history
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: Although the famous Venetian painter Canaletto is chiefly known for his beautiful 'vedute', i.e. a landscape or town view that is largely topographical in conception, bathed into a bright sunlight, he also produced a certain number of 'capricci', a somewhat derivation of the 'veduta', which characteristic lies in the invention of part of the settings.

The present painting is a good example of such genre painting that particularly developed in Venice (and later in Rome) during the 18th century. It shows a ruined bridge with a tower and an archway, branches and foliage had grown up on these ruins while little figures, made up of small dots of colours ('macchiette'), are walking around. The wide blue sky is enlivened by hues of purple and pure white that convey a stormy atmosphere to the whole picture. The touches of yellow and brown give the sense of a summer end when the weather is still warm under a menacing sky.

The free brushwork and the somewhat dryness of the pencil also associate this piece with the work of Bernardo Bellotto, Canaletto's nephew, who produced several 'capricci' in an identical manner. However this painting appears close to another 'capriccio' by Canaletto: A castle on a bridge by the lagoon, Edward Speelman collection, London, and its related drawing, Schaeffer Galleries, New York, which compositional idea with variations reproduced the one here depicted.

For it relies on the artist's invention, the genre of the 'capriccio' enabled the painter to develop further his imagination as he included in a realistic setting imaginary elements and had therefore to combine them together in an elaborate composition. According to Martini (1985), this painting is of 'straordinaria bellezza' (extraordinary beauty) because of the richness of the composition and the play of light from warm to cool nuances. Few 'pentimenti' (i.e. corrections) appear here and there such as the cross in the middle of the bridge, originally inclined in a diametrically opposite direction, as well as in the edifices receding into the distance.

This painting witnessed the continued production of 'capricci' in Canaletto's oeuvre from the early Capriccio with a bridge, Private collection, dated 1721-22 to the late A castle on a bridge by the lagoon, mentioned above, dated ca. 1760, of which the present painting may have been the prototype.
Historical context
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 of Europe, 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.
Subjects depicted
Place Depicted
Summary
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 (ca.1702-1772), and established the vogue for views of London.



This painting is a remarkable example of Canaletto's 'capricci', i.e. fantasy views, he produced during his career along with more realistic views. This work shows a ruined bridge with a tower and a gatehouse on the right, an archway with a Corinthian column surmounted by the statue of a ram or a sheep on the left and, beyond the bridge, a city receding into the distance while small figures are walking around. Particularly interesting is the pictorial rendering of light enlivened by strong shadows and a wide range of tones from warm to cool nuances in a free brushwork that suggests rather than delineates the forms.
Bibliographic References
  • Kauffmann, C.M. Catalogue of Foreign Paintings, I. Before 1800, London: Victoria and Albert Museum, 1973, p. 52-53, cat. no. 54.
  • Kowalczyk, Bożena Anna (ed.), Canaletto e Bellotto : l'arte della veduta, Cinisello Balsamo, Milano : Silvana, 200880
  • E. Martini, La pittura del Settecento veneto, Udine, 1982, p. 535, n. 283, fig. 217.
  • A. Corboz, Canaletto. Una Venezia immaginaria, Milan, 1985, II, p. 648, n. P298
Collection
Accession Number
1352-1869

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record createdFebruary 28, 2007
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