Giovanni Antonio Canal (*7 October 1697 in Venice ; † 19. April 1768 in Venice), commonly known as Canaletto (Italian: [kanaˈletto]), was an Italian painter from the Republic of Venice, considered an important member of the 18th-century Venetian school.
Painter of city views or vedute, of Venice, Rome, and London, he also painted imaginary views (referred to as capricci), although the demarcation in his works between the real and the imaginary is never quite clearcut. He was further an important printmaker using the etching technique. In the period from 1746 to 1756 he worked in England where he painted many views of London and other sites including Warwick Castle and Alnwick Castle. He was highly successful in England, thanks to the British merchant and connoisseur Joseph "Consul" Smith, whose large collection of Canaletto's works was sold to King George III in 1762.
Canaletto learned painting in the workshop of his father Bernardo Canal, who produced stage sets for theatre performances. He became famous for his paintings of his hometown Venice as well as for Capricci. They are captivating because of their almost photo-realistic precision and richness of detail. To achieve this precision, he used a camera obscura as an aid.
Antonio Canal is to be distinguished from his nephew Bernardo Bellotto, who worked in a very similar way and later also used the artist's name "Canaletto". Antonio Canal's works are altogether more light, mostly more cheerful and also brighter than those of his nephew.
One of Canaletto's patrons and clients was the English consul in Venice Joseph Smith, who also commissioned Antonio Visentini in 1728 with the engravings for Canaletto's Venetian vedute under the title Venetiarum nobis Prospectus, thus ensuring the dissemination of the works among the English nobility travelling on the Grand Tour. The paintings were either acquired by the English nobles through Smith or ordered directly from England. Thus in 1731-1732 the 4th Duke of Bedford commissioned 24 paintings, which Antonio Canal executed from 1732 to 1736. This was followed by commissions from the 3rd Duke of Marlborough for a further 20 paintings, and in 1738 Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle, ordered 5 large-scale canvases.
After the outbreak of the War of the Austrian Succession in 1740 the number of his commissions declined.
In 1746 Canal went to England for ten years, after he had heard about the living conditions there from Jacopo Amigoni, who had spent several years there as an artist, and won the Duke of Richmond as a patron. The paintings he produced there have a lighter and more vivid effect. They are among the best representations of London in the 18th century. He spent the last years of his life back in Venice. His pictures became darker, but were still full of surprises.
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86 | The Molo from the Basin of San Marco, Venice (Der Molo aus dem Becken von San Marco, Venedig), c. 1747-1750
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