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Eighteenth-Century Studies 35.1 (2001) 101-108

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Exhibition Review

Canaletto: Prima Maniera

Bernardo Bellotto: 1722-1780

Jeffrey Collins,
University of Washington, Seattle

Canaletto: Prima Maniera. Venice, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, 18 March-10 June 2001. Catalogue ed. by Boïena Anna Kowalczyk (Milan: Electa, 2001). Pp. 230, 93 color ill. Lire 80,000 (approx. $40), paper. ISBN 88 435 7877-4.

Bernardo Bellotto: 1722-1780. Venice, Museo Correr, 10 February-27 June 2001; Houston, Museum of Fine Arts, 29 July-21 October 2001.Catalogue ed. by Bo.zena Anna Kowalczyk and Monica da Cortà Fumei (Milan: Electa, 2001). Pp. 281, 133 color, 45 black and white ill. Lire 100,000 (approx. $50), paper. ISBN 88-435-7818-9.

Venetian Visions

The past two decades have been a watershed for Settecento studies, as a series of groundbreaking exhibitions ushered eighteenth century Italy into the realm of the blockbuster. Naples had its day in 1981-2 (The Golden Age of Naples in Detroit and Chicago), Venice in 1994-5 (The Glory of Venice in London and Washington, D.C.), and the Eternal City in 2000 with The Splendor of Eighteenth-Century Rome in Philadelphia and Houston, reviewed in these pages by Carole Paul (ECS 34.2). While these ambitious, synthetic initiatives have helped mobilize a new generation of scholars and put the field back on the map for the viewing public, they have also made clear how much remains to be done in order to recover a full view of a century and a culture that have too long played second fiddle.

Two new exhibitions fill this gap by returning to the Settecento's historic bread and butter, i.e., vedutismo or view-painting as practiced above all by Venetians like Canaletto (Antonio Canal) and his nephew Bernardo Bellotto, also--confusingly--called Canaletto. Although both well-known artists have been the subject of recent monographic shows (Canaletto in New York in 1989-90 and Bellotto in Venice in 1986 and Verona in 1990), the scholarly territory is far from exhausted. Cultural historians are probing the intellectual, political, and institutional [End Page 101] contexts of their work, while specialists still debate their respective origins, trajectory, and impact. The twin exhibition projects considered here, involving many of the same players, adopt complementary angles on the problem. The first, devoted to the elder Canaletto, restricts the frame by focusing as never before on the crucial decade when the artist was first forming his signature vision and style. By contrast, the exhibition on Bellotto provides the first comprehensive survey of the peripatetic painter's vast production both south and north of the Alps. Together they document the formation and diffusion of a distinctive mode of seeing that captivated Europe's cultural elite and has forever shaped our own vision of European life on the eve of the modern age.

Zuane Antonio Canal (1697-1768) might seem to need no such reintroduction, since his light-filled celebrations of the Venetian cityscape have long typified the optimistic blend of detail and expansiveness that we associate with the European Enlightenment. Yet Canaletto did not spring fully formed, despite inheriting a vibrant topographic tradition from Gentile Bellini, Vittore Carpaccio, Gaspar van Wittel, and Luca Carlevarijs, among others. Although the painter's encyclopedic visions seem the essence of patience, self-assurance, and meticulous observation, contemporaries stressed his fickleness, not his self-discipline. As Owen McSwinney complained to the Duke of Richmond in 1727, "the fellow is whimsical and vary's his prices every day and he that has a mind to have any of his work must not seem to be too fond of it, for he'l be the worse treated for it, both in the price, & in the painting too. He has more work than he can doe in any reasonable time, and well; but by the assistance of a particular friend of his, I get once in two months a piece sketched out and in a little time afterwards finished, by force of bribery." McSwinney's early portrait of Canaletto as a capricious man on the make reminds us that the artist's classic style...


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