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Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)

The Campanile under repair c.1745

Pen and ink, with grey wash, over ruled pencil and pinpointing | 42.5 x 29.2 cm | RCIN 907426

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A drawing of the Campanile in Piazza San Marco in Venice. The Campanile is shown under repair after it had been struck by lightning on 23 April 1745. On the left of the Campanile is part of the Libreria, and on its right are the Procuratie Vecchie and the Torre dell'Orologio. The Campanile of San Marco, 98.5 metres (325 feet) tall and the highest point in Venice, was first built in brick in the late ninth century and owes its present form to restructuring carried out by the sculptor and architect Bartolomeo Buon in 1511-14. Buon added a bell-storey in white Istrian stone, with four open arches on each side, above which are reliefs of the lion of St Mark and an allegorical figure of Justice against a brick ground, a pyramidal spire faced in green copper, and at the pinnacle a figure of the archangel Gabriel. The Campanile collapsed without warning in 1902, after which it was rebuilt as close as possible to its original form, externally at least (the use of modern materials for the internal structure was estimated to have left the tower 2,000 tonnes lighter). The collapse was blamed on a breach in the north-east angle of the structure caused by a lightning strike in 1745, and it is the repairs following that strike that Canaletto depicted here. His inscription records, ‘On 23 April 1745, the day of St George the Knight, a thunderbolt struck the Campanile of San Marco’. A workmen’s cradle is suspended from scaffolding erected in the bell-storey, with a windlass on the Loggetta; two sections of the balustrade of the Loggetta are missing, presumably damaged by the falling bricks. Because of the risk of collapse, work to repair the Campanile began almost immediately, and it must be presumed that Canaletto witnessed this scene before he left Venice for England in 1746. While it does not necessarily follow that the drawing was made at that time, its style is consistent with the capricci of the 1740s. This is one of the few occasions that Canaletto depicted the Campanile in its correct, rather massive proportions. The angle of view of the bell-storey requires a standpoint some way off in the Bacino, though a view from the (widened) Piazzetta, near the corner of the Palazzo Ducale, is implied. The ruled pencil underdrawing is prominent, and it is odd that Canaletto should not have taken care to erase it in what was clearly intended to be a finished drawing. Links thought that the signs of erasure to the right of the tower indicated that the damage might have been drawn in later, but it is clear that the scaffolding and cradle were intended from the outset. In the British Museum is an almost identical version of the drawing (1910,0212.25) that bears a ‘Strassburg Lily’ watermark, of Dutch origin, and it has been deduced that that drawing must have been executed when Canaletto was in England (a related painting by Canaletto - now in the A.G. Leventis Trust Collection, Paris - also seems to be English in date). But the great majority of the watermarks found on the drawings in the present catalogue are Strassburg Lilies, and Canaletto must have had a reliable source of northern European paper even when he was working in Venice. Inscribed by the artist: A di 23 aprile 1745 giorno di S. Giogio Cavalier / diede la saeta nel Canpanil di S. Marco Catalogue entry adapted from Canaletto in Venice, London, 2005