Visions from the 18th century: a glance towards Canaletto, the Grand Tour and the Enlightenment.
The Canaletto exhibition at Palazzo Braschi in Rome is a unique opportunity to experience a “virtual visit” to 18th century Venice, and not only that. In fact, the “panoramas” and “landscapes” of the Venetian painter take us on a pictorial journey along the canals of the “Serenissima” (an Italian term for the Republic of Venice), in the evocative Venetian atmosphere with the tremulous visions of the rich palaces that reflect on the waters, all in the great mass choreography of the great city events, in the serene light of nearly deserted corners of this beautiful city, to only then take us away into the cold English landscapes.
As a matter of fact, Canaletto was the leading interpreter of “Vedutismo” or also know as “Veduta”, a pictorial genre defined by the representation of city scenes, urban landscapes and architectural views.
“Il Canal Grande con Santa Maria della-Carità”
Landscape painting as an autonomous genre began in the 1600s. Up until that point, the city and nature, although sometimes assuming an important role, were the background to the facts narrated by the painter and therefore were subordinate to human action.
In the eighteenth century landscape painting was transformed, “veduta” was born. Now it is the city that speaks, with its architectures and stages, while mankind, while the protagonist in the Renaissance, became simply figurative.
Therefore, this pictorial genre assumed the role of an objective document of places. However, at times the opposite occurred, perhaps in the rushed attempt of putting together everything beautiful in one place, transforming the piece into a “whim” – that is, an imaginative view that encloses into an impossible single vision the most interesting monuments of a city.
“Capriccio con rovine”
Not by chance did this genre arise in the Enlightenment. The clear rationality with which the city is reproduced is the fruit of that cultural climate that had made reason its guide. The result of this objectivity is the use of the “optical chamber”, a device where light rays pass through a hole in a “dark box”. The image obtained was then traced by hand. This served as a basis for the “veduta” artists for their clear reproductions – which we could even call scientific. In fact, although similar instruments existed already in the Renaissance, the rational use was quite new to the 18th century.
These “vedute” – views or panoramas – rise to the role of objective documents of places and cities and, in addition to local clients, were particularly requested by foreign visitors. This is in fact the century of a new “mass” phenomenon, the Grand Tour.
The wealthy exponents of aristocracy travelled, mainly in Italy, not for practical purposes but rather to complete their cultural education.
This was an “enlightened” tourism, quite far from today’s hit-and-run travelling, the mirror of an era in which a journey meant knowledge and enrichment of the soul. These travellers loved to take away “memories” of those admired landscapes. Consequently, they increased the market of “veduta” art, and it is no accident that this art would develop mainly in Rome and Venice.
“Il ponte di Rialto da Nord”
The British had a special love for Canaletto, and the painter, invited by the English consul, would eventually spend 14 years on the island and then return to his hometown of Venice where he died quite poor.
In the exhibition inaugurated in Rome at Palazzo Braschi from April 11th and closing on August 19th 2018, on the occasion of the 250th anniversary of his death, the public can admire 68 works from all over the world, including Italy of course, which include paintings, drawings and documents.