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Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal)

Italian (active Venice, Rome, and England), 1697 - 1768

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Giovanni Antonio Canal, known as Canaletto, was born in Venice in 1697 and trained as a theatrical designer under his father, Bernardo Canal, continuing the profession in collaboration with his father and his uncle Cristoforo from 1716 to about 1719 at the Teatro Sant'Angelo and later at the Teatro San Cassiano, experiences that would inform his later representations of his native city. He traveled to Rome in 1719 and then returned to Venice, where his career as one of the primary view painters of the eighteenth century began, his name being recorded in the official list of Venetian painters from 1720 through 1767.

In 1722 he was commissioned by the Irish impresario Owen McSwiny to contribute to the latter's famous series of allegorical tomb paintings. McSwiny was active in facilitating artistic contacts and may have furnished a link between Canaletto and Joseph Smith, the British consul in Venice, who then became the artist's great patron (most of Smith's collection of paintings and drawings are now in the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle). Canaletto may have visited Rome again around 1740, but he never adopted the strongly figurative artistic tradition of that city.

His work appealed enormously to English collectors, many of whom had been to La Serenissima (the most serene), as Venice was called by its adulators, and others who sought to know the city solely through paintings. His success with the English led to an extended stay in England, spent mainly in London, where he produced paintings that were signed and dated between 1746 and about 1756 (during this period Canaletto returned twice to Venice for brief visits). Canaletto also produced etchings that capture, as do his drawings, the direct, reflected, and refracted light of his native city. His belated election to the academy of Venice in 1763 may reflect the lower status accorded to landscape artists, below the ranks of purely figurative painters. He died in Venice in 1768.

Mimi Cazort, from Italian Master Drawings at the Philadelphia Museum of Art (2004), cat. 33.

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