Heart of Venice
Canaletto painted dozens of paintings of the Piazza San Marco with various different angles. This painting titled The Square of Saint Mark’s, Venice is the north view of the “Basilica of San Marco shown on the left, the Procuratie Nuove in the center’ and, the church of San Giminiano on the far left; the Procuratie Nuove in the center” (MFAH). Canaletto’s painting is considered to be a “capriccio” because of its distorted proportions and scale. Canaletto was an Italian born artist who painted this work in the 18th century using the medium oil on canvas. Canaletto in this painting depicts the everyday life of Venice, as the painting depicts different social classes of people wandering about the busy square through the use of different elements and principles.
The first thing you will see when you look at this painting is the presence of many lines. Canaletto combines the irregular lines of the figures and regular lines of the architecture. Regular lines of the architecture are communicative lines. Canaletto uses many vertical lines seen in the Basilica of San Marco on the left to communicate the strength of the buildings. He also uses horizontal lines in the pale blue sky to communicate passivity and diagonals lines communicate movement for the figures in the foreground who seem to be shopping and setting up their shop near the strong vertical pillars.
Canaletto uses both organic and geometric shapes in this painting. The geometric shapes are formed by vertical and horizontal lines. The horizontal lines seem to be converging to one singular point, meaning the artist uses linear perspective of the lines to form shapes that give the illusion of three dimensionality. The artist uses relative proportions and perfectly drawn lines to give the painting a more realistic nature. The artist also uses a natural light source in his painting that project the geometric shapes making it more realistic. The light source is not seen but can be determined by the use of shadows and colors. For example, the church on the far-right side of the building is square in nature and it is projecting its shadow on the side of the building on the left. Thus, the color is darker in value where the shadow is projected and lighter in value where is it exposed to the sun.
Canaletto uses less color in this painting. He primarily used a white-yellowish tint to accurately represent the age of the architecture. The architecture seems to be old and the paint has worn off significantly. He uses warm colors for the foreground and cool colors for the background. The Basilica of San Marco on the left once used to be pink but not the color is very dull and faded. The artist also contrasts the dullness of the architecture with the bright sky in the background. This highlights the warm colors in the foreground and directing our eyes.
This painting captures the essence of time. During that 18th century, the camera had not been invented yet so the only way to capture the beauty of the Piazza San Marco was to create a painting. Canaletto created dozens of paintings of the square, so he could sell them to the tourists. During this time Roman architecture was spreading across Europe and artists like Canaletto captured the beauty of the transformations in their paintings.
Canaletto used all the elements of art to produce these design principles. One of the design principles he used in the painting is scale and proportion. According to the book Venice in the Age of Canaletto, the author mentions that his painting is a “capriccio”. Canaletto “distorts proportions and scales” in his painting (Libby 12). According to the author, this style is of art is called “scena dell’angolo or angled scene” (Libby 12). The architecture has rows of repeating lines and patterns that create a sense of rhythm in the painting. The rhythm creates a design element in the architecture that is mesmerizing. The repetition is placed directly in the middle of the painting, creating a balance in the painting.
In terms of media, the artist uses oil on canvas because of its flexibility and luminosity. The paint is also slow drying, so the artists can blend and make changes easily and thus creating a more detailed painting. This painting captured my eye across the room as it seemed to glow and when I got closer to it, I was shocked at the amount of details that were present.
This painting clearly depicts objects and people clearly. If we look the square in the foreground we can see that merchants who are setting up their shop around the vertical pillars, we can see the “magistrates in full wigs and gowns, fashionable women and gentlemen in a typical dress and the laborers” (MFAH). We can clearly depict the different social classes represented in the painting through their style of clothing. We can also depict the object very clearly such as the church in the background, the Basilica of San Marco in the front left and the various tents that are spread out. Canaletto painted the details to depict the reality and the life in the heart of Venice.
The Square of Saint Mark’s, Venice represents many of the cultural, religious and economic values of the 18th century Venice. Canaletto uses elements of lines and shapes to create repetition and to communicate the energy and the movement in the painting. Although we do not see the light source in the painting, Canaletto uses natural light to emphasize values to create a sense of time when the square is the busiest. Canaletto purposefully distorts the proportions and scale to enhance the effects of linear perspective. This heightens the effects of the architecture as well. The effects of the elements and principles are also dramatically increased through the use of oils. Oil on canvas allows for the painting to look glass-like by reflecting like back. Canaletto’s painting is a beautiful work of art that depicts the Venetian life during the 18th century accurately.
Libby, Alexandra, and Antonio Canal. Venice in the Age of Canaletto: Prestel, 2010.Print.
Houston Museum of Fine Arts. Museum Label for Canaletto. The Square of Saint Mark’s, Venice. Houston, TX, 22 Dec. 2017.