Art History in the News: Canaletto and his Rivals (The Economist)



“THE sun always shines in Venice; the sky is always blue. This is how visitors like to remember that most beautiful island city. Not coincidentally, that is how Canaletto most often painted the place. His clients, after all, were Grand Tourists, many of them back home in dark English country houses, worrying about farm rents. They longed for the gorgeous, licentious place their memories turned into paradise.

The fact is that in the 18th century and today, Venice would win the title of bronchitis capital of the world if such a contest existed. One December when I lived there (I know, lucky me—and I felt that way too, when I wasn’t shivering and coughing), the sun came out exactly once. It was a feeble appearance, too, as if Sol exhausted himself in the struggle to get through the fog. In Canaletto’s time, of course, there were more worrying illnesses to worry about, such as syphilis, to name one. But never mind, as the English are inclined to say. Never mind the smell of drains and wilting heat in summer, the pickpockets and the cheating restaurateurs. Venice is heaven, or as close to it as urban life can get. That is the important thing. Some 60 examples of painted propaganda in support of this make up “Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals”, which just opened at London’s National Gallery. The works of Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697—1768), otherwise known as Canaletto, are rightfully the heart of the show.”


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