The painting depicts in perspective the portico of a Venetian building, which was invented by the painter but linked to a noble family of the city, as suggested by the large coat of arms that stands out from the portico.
This kind of painting is called capriccio, that is a representation of an imaginary environment or landscape, which was a fashionable pictorial genre in the 18th century and not only in Venice, and which often included landscapes with ruins and ancient buildings that don’t really exist.
In this case, Canaletto depicts a moment of life in his home city. You can see several little figures represented with fast but defined lines: there is a servant spreading a large red cloth decorated with cold borders on the balustrade of a terrace, where another man is looking down, while under the portico, in the foreground, there is a poor woman sitting on the right, selling some items that are placed on an old chair, and a well-dressed gentleman is perhaps buying something from the child sitting on the ground, a beggar is leaning against a column waiting for alms, while other figures are walking. At the end of the porch, which is like a perspective telescope, you can see another elegant building illuminated by daylight.
The artist immortalized a typical Venetian scene of the time like in a photograph, even though he completely invented the setting.
The splendid and rich Baroque style architecture is described in great detail, with the two-story portico pictured foreshortened, the elegant and elaborated capitals on the thin columns, the imposing staircase where some people are standing. One of them is facing the railing and holds a rod in his hand, perhaps fishing something from the canal below.
The work is a sample that Canaletto signed and dated in 1765 for the Accademia di Belle Arti of Venice, where two years before he was appointed professor of perspective architecture. In fact, in this and other canvases, Canaletto demonstrates a profound knowledge of perspective and its representation, which he had perfected thanks to the use of optical camera, a tool that allowed artists to represent reality with extreme precision, like in this case, where the scene seems very realistic.
There are two preparatory drawings of the work. One is more defined and preserved in Rome in the Albertini collection while the other that is preserved at the Correr Museum in Venice is a sketch that is probably linked to a first idea of the painting.
The artist donated the painting to the Academy of Venice as a sign of gratitude for his nomination as academic, while in 1777 the work was exhibited in St. Mark’s Square on the occasion of the Sensa feast, on the day of the Ascension of Christ.
There are several copies of the work as well as an engraving from 1779 by Joseph Wagner, which was appreciated for its strong chiaroscuro that characterizes the work, where shadowed areas contrasted with clean parts, illuminated by the daylight.
Canaletto was born in 1697 in Venice, where he started to paint theatrical scenes with his father Bernardo and brother Cristoforo.
On his trip in Rome in 1719 he met landscape painters Gaspar van Wittel, Giovanni Paolo Pannini and Viviano Codazzi. When he came back to Venice he started to paint city views which were influenced by the works of Luca Carlevrijs and Marco Ricci, even though soon he found his own individual style, quite different from the others.
In the 1740s’ he met English consul and merchant Joseph Smith and thanks to him Canaletto stayed in London for several years (1746 – 1756) painting city views and English country landscapes based on perspective and the use of camera obscura, paying attention on atmospheric representation. Among his important clients were the dukes of Richmond, the dukes of Beaufort and those of Northumberland.
After his return in Venice he dedicated himself mainly to his Capricci, such as famous Capriccio palladiano (Parma, Galleria Nazionale), where he combines real elements with alternative places, such as Rialto Quarter and Basilica of Vicenza, but also fantasy elements like Rialto Bridge by Palladio, which was never built.
The Accademia of Venice was founded in 1750 and the opening of the Gallerie dell’Accademia was linked to it with primarily educational purpose: in 1803 a decree established the need to adjoin a gallery next to the school that was used by the students who studied painting and sculpting.
In 1817 the gallery was opened also to the public. The gallery is located in the area of Dorsoduro, down by the Accademia bridge, in a complex including the church of Santa Maria della Carità, the Canonici Lateranensi convent and the Scuola Grande of Santa Maria della Carità, all situated in a single floor, divided into twenty-fours and covering 5537 square meters.
The first section of the collection includes the Presentation of the Virgin at the Temple and the Pietà by Titian (1538) and the Triptych of the Madonna della Carità by Antonio Vivarini and Giovanni d’Alemagna (1480).
The collection also includes essays by the students of the academy and a collection of plaster casts (hence the plural name, gallerie) which were put on display in the exhibition with success in 1817.
The collection was enriched with the paintings brought from defeated France and with the masterpieces that were left to the museum by great collectors. However, the paintings were always linked to the Venetian culture and this feature was tried to overcome for the whole 20th century. Among these works was the legacy of Felicita Reiner (in 1833, but only formalized in 1850), which included masterpieces such as Piero della Francesca’s St. Jerome, Giovanni Bellini’s Madonna and Child and Saints Catherine and Mary Magdalene. The legacy of Girolamo Contarini (1838) included 180 works, among them Madonna of the Small Trees and the Four Allegories by Bellini, and six paintings by Pietro Longhi.
The emperor Franz Joseph grew the collection with Nicolò di Pietro’s Madonna and Mantegna’s St. George, Memling’s Portrait of a Young Man and Giorgione’s Old Woman. The gallery was radically reorganized in 1895 by the director Giulio Cantalamessa. He excluded all the 19th century artists and for the first time the exhibition was organized chronologically. He coordinated the cycles of the School of St. Ursula by Vittore Carpaccio and the School of St. John the Evangelist by Cima da Conegliano, previously divided in various locations. Under the direction of Gino Fogolari (1905) the museum acquired other fundamental masterpieces, such as the Tempest by Giorgione and the Crucifixion by Luca Giordano and the Feast at the House of Simon by Bernardo Strozzi.
In the post-war period the museum performed various changes, for example Titian’s Assumption of the Virgin, which was supposed to be placed in a specially designed room, was returned to the Frari church in Venice instead. The 19th century works that were already excluded from the exhibition were sent to the deposit at the museum of Modern Art in Ca’ Pesaro and the foreign art in the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti in Ca’ d’Oro. In the 1940s’ Vittorio Moschini and Carlo Scarpa wanted to perform a modern reorganization of the museum, including the 19th century salons, but which resulted quite impractical in the end. In these years Francesco Guardi’s Fire in the Oil Depot of San Marcuola and Montagna’s St. Peter and Donor became part of the collection.
In 1987 director Sciré decided to increase the exhibition space opening the gallery on the fourth floor with the graphic collection and a new deposit was opened on the top floor of the Palladio building. In the same year the collection was enriched with two cherubs and two allegorical figures representing Justice and Patience, taken from Giorgio Vasari’s ceiling in a room of Palazzo Corner on the Grand Canal. Between 2001-2003 the gallery was renovated expanding the exhibition areas and adding modern lightning in the rooms.