W.G. Constable, who saw these two paintings at Julius Weitzner's in March 1946, noted their characteristics typical of Bellotto's style: 'V. cool tone. China blue sky. Cool shadows. Diag[onal] brush strokes in sky. Hor[izontal] clouds at horizon. Look like Bellotto' (handwritten note in the Constable/Links archive). Constable never received the photographs which Weitzner had promised. When he came to write up his notes for publication in 1962, he tempered his conclusion, describing the brushwork as 'close to that of Bellotto' but listing the first painting under the generic appelation 'School of Canaletto'. Kozakiewicz knew the paintings only from a reproduction of the second, in which he felt that 'Bellotto can have been at most an assistant, not the chief executant'. J.G. Links analysed the compositions, comparing that of The Bacino di San Marco from the Piazzetta with other views of the same locale (Constable, op. cit., 2nd ed., revised by J.G. Links, 1989, nos. 95(aa), 129 and 146-8). Not finding any photographs of the paintings in Constable's archive, he did not realise that Constable and Kozakiewicz had already published them, and his description of them as 'late work' is hard to explain. He too, however, saw 'indications that Bellotto may have played a considerable part in their execution'.
The two paintings have none of the character of collaborative works. Indeed, in their intensely worked pictorial structure, dense pigment carefully laid on in superimposed layers forming the architectural elements, in the sensitively chosen colors of their curiously elongated and well characterized figures, and in the clearly visible pentimenti (in the widths of the columns and in the height of the dragon beneath Saint Theodore's feet) they show that they were conceived and executed as autonomous works, carried out with attention to construction and perspective as well as to purely pictorial concerns.
These paintings should be considered independent inventions of the young Bellotto of the years 1738-9. The artist would continue, until his departure from Venice for Lombardy in 1744, to produce versions of Canaletto compositions. Beside those, however, Bellotto, who had been enrolled as a member of the Venetian painters' guild in his own right as early as 1738, was already painting compositions of his own creation, such as The Rio dei Mendicanti in the Accademia Galleries, Venice (Constable, op. cit., no. 291; Kozakiewicz, op. cit., no. 23), The Church of Santa Maria dei Miracoli in the Landesmuseum, Hannover (Constable, op. cit., no. 464; Kozakiewicz, op. cit., no. 105), and The Campo San Stin in the Douglas-Pennant Collection at Penrhyn Castle (Constable, op. cit., no. 286; Kozakiewicz, op. cit., no. Z271).
The composition of The Piazzetta looking East was inspired by a print (plate 48) in Luca Carlevarijs' set of etchings Le Fabriche, e Vedute Di Venezia Disegnate, Poste in Prospettiva, et Intagliate, published in 1703. While such borrowing is frequent in Canaletto's work, it is unusual in that of Bellotto. In comparison with the print, the balance of the composition is improved. The displacing of the framing towards the right reduces the faade of the Doge's Palace, which ends with the main window surmounted by Alessandro Vittoria's statue of Justice of 1579, and extends the view to include the whole of the Riva degli Schiavoni and more of the Bacino, teeming with boats. The greater depth given to the Piazzetta permits the inclusion also of the Column of Saint Theodore. But it is above all the treatment of light which, in its dramatic effects of contrast, makes this view completely autonomous and personal. The dark shadow of the Basilica of San Marco, with its irregular borders, is projected onto the fully lit faade of the Doge's Palace, and the more suffused shadow which envelops the sequence of houses on the Riva, with its more or less imaginary forest of bell-towers and domes, throws into relief the illuminated columns. The tonal value of every detail is precisely defined; peculiar to Bellotto are the long shadows and the figures silhouetted against the light or standing out from the shade.
In the pendant Bacino di San Marco from the Piazzetta, Bellotto presents a particularly original perspectival organization, carefully worked out and certainly impossible. To achieve the effect of the illuminated dome of the Salute framed by the two columns in the Piazzetta, these are brought closer together and the Column of Saint Mark is shown without its lion. Here the geometric design in white stone in the paving of the Piazzetta, diligently delineated in the pendant, is omitted, as in The Bacino di San Marco from the Piazzetta from the set once at Paxton House (Constable, op. cit., no. 129(a); Links, op. cit., pp. 13-14, pl. 233) and in the related composition, but showing only the column of Saint Theodore, sold at Christie's, London, July 11, 1980, lot 120, and now in the Koetser Foundation Collection at the Kunsthaus, Zrich (C. Klemm, The Paintings of the Betty and David M. Koetser Foundation, 1988, pp. 146-7, no. 63, illustrated in color).
In these as in his other early autonomous compositions, the young Bellotto demonstrates a considerable technical ability and a perfect assimilation of Canaletto's methods, along with a very personal descriptive incisiveness.
Bozena Anna Kowalczyk
(translated by Charles Beddington)
The Piazzetta, Venice, looking East with the Doge's Palace, the Columns of Saint Mark and Saint Theodore, the Riva degli Schiavoni and the Bacino di San Marco; and The Bacino di San Marco and the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, from the Piazzetta, with the Columns of Saint Mark and Saint Theodore
Oil on canvas
Please note the following additional provenance:
The Philadelphia Museum of Art, by whom deaccessioned Parke-Bernet, New York, Feb. 29, 1956, lot 35 and 36.
18 x 24in. (47.7 x 62.8cm.)
Art News, May 1, 1929, the first illustrated, as by Canaletto.
W.G. Constable, Canaletto, 1962 (and subsequent editions, revised by J.G. Links), II, nos. 76 and 129(b).
S. Kozakiewicz, Bernardo Bellotto, 1972, II, pp. 405 and 416, nos. Z45 and Z101.
J.G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable's Canaletto, 1997, pp. 9 and 14, nos. 75* and 129*, pls. 247 and 249 (including detail).
Baron Spitzer, by 1893.
Frdric Spitzer; his sale, Anderson Galleries, New York, Jan. 9-12, 1929 (=3rd day), lots 532 and 533, as Canaletto.
with Julius Weitzner, New York, March 1946.
Weber collection, Switzerland.