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The Piazzetta and Piazza San Marco

This set of six large views of the Piazzetta and Piazza San Marco was Canaletto’s earliest commission from Joseph Smith. They form three pairs with the principal weight of building on either left or right, and were probably planned to decorate a particular room in Smith’s palazzo on the Grand Canal. Canaletto made changes to the initial compositions set out in the six preparatory drawings (on display at the beginning of the exhibition) and during the painting process itself.

Canaletto’s early theatrical training is evident in the monumental scale of these paintings, with the daring perspective and low viewpoints. The skies are dramatic and the paint broadly and fluidly handled. Like a theatre backdrop, buildings recede rapidly into the distance. The scenes are punctuated by blocks of dark and light, the figures carefully posed like actors on a stage.