Born as Giovanni Antonio Canal on October 28, 1697, in Venice, Italy, it is likely that Canaletto used his surname to distinguish himself from his renown father, Bernardo Canal. Though Canaletto was adept in art forms such as printmaking,  etching engraving, and burin, he is best known for his landscape paintings (Canaletto-The Complete Works). His father was a highly esteemed landscape artist for the backgrounds of plays, so Canaletto learned from a very young age how to masterfully capture and  create vivid landscape scenery. Due to the mythical aura surrounding many Venetian plays, the landscapes took on magical and dramatic qualities, traits which would later aid in setting Canaletto’s paintings apart from others’. He sought out many artists in an attempt to further his own work, and worked particularly closely with Luca Calevaris and Giovanni Paolo Pannini. Additionally, Canaletto could look to trend-setting artists such as Marco Boschini and Tomasso Fontana for inspiration (Octave, 77-85).

At the young age of 22, Canaletto quit his shared occupation with his father and set off to pursue easel painting. He disembarked to Rome, seeking to  capture the streets and old architecture as well as study under the well-established painter, Pannini. Pannini taught Canaletto more about harmonious nature compositions, and the patterns that could be found in them. He also further instilled a sense of awe in Canaletto with regards to Roman ruins, as Pannini himself was drawn specifically to them (Octave, 78). Canaletto’s stay in Rome was relatively short, and he returned to his hometown of Venice to resume painting the city which he cared most for.

Although Canaletto did not travel outside of Venice often, he did take up residence in London and his painting became quite popular among the nobility there. In 1746, Canaletto traveled “to England on the advice of the busy intermediary, Consul Joseph Smith,” (Octave, 99). Smith, a man whom Canaletto had met on his return to Venice, was the main reason the artist gained so much popularity in England (and later, Paris and Vienna). He purchased many of Canaletto’s paintings and in turn sold them for great profit to the social elitists in England; however, Canaletto realized that he was being cheated of quite large sums of money and from that point on decided to never again use an intermediary when selling his work (Canaletto. Biography.).

Canaletto’s time in England exposed him to the techniques of Anglo-Saxon painting, which forever altered his work. Most notably, he picked up the common practice of painting a picture as one would see an image through a camera lens, with foreground objects being painted in total clarity and background features blurred. Though it is argued over whether this new technique was one which Canaletto acquired on accident or not, the general consensus is that his works following his time in England were less impressive than those in his early career.

Like many Venetian artists of this time, Canaletto kept a very low profile. Rather than focus on publicity and popularity of his work, he strove to improve and expand his methods, a devoted artist to the end. His pursuit of perfection in his work is what led to his rapid rise to fame. Canaletto’s passion for his art is evident throughout his entire career, shining through the canvas to stir the souls and minds of the onlooker. His revolutionary techniques in perspective and keen eye for detail and composition are what his name was built on, and to this day he remains an inspiration to all landscape artists.


Palazzo Ducale in Venice, c1754. Oil on canvas, 51x83cm. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

Palazzo Ducale in Venice, c1754. Oil on canvas, 51x83cm. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.







View of the Grand Canal, 18th century. Oil on canvas, 45x73cm. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.

View of the Grand Canal, 18th century. Oil on canvas, 45x73cm. Uffizi Gallery, Florence.







Perspective, 1765. Oil on canvas, 131x90cm. Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venice.

Perspective, 1765. Oil on canvas, 131x90cm. Gallerie dell’Accademia, Venice.







            Perspective is a painting done late in Canaletto’s career, approximately three years before his death in 1768. It is a perfect example of the unending devotion he had to his art, as it is clear he had continued to improve upon and expand  his painting techniques. Despite years of painting the same subject matter, landscapes of Venice and England, Canaletto was still able to find an intriguing angle and moment to capture. His history in working on theatrical scenery is evident in the way he captures the mood of the scene, and the narrative that accompanies it.

It is a peaceful scene, and a quiet one, yet still full of life and motion. One’s eye is immediately drawn up to the top left corner, then across the top to fixate on the semicircle of light pouring out of the space created by the upper level of the building. Inside, the viewer sees directly into the quiet life of a household servant, mending a drooping curtain, and the youth leaning casually against the rail, peering down at the scene below. The viewer’s eye searches also for what is happening on the lower level of the painting. A finely dressed man attracts immediate attention, before the eyes pass quickly around the lower portions of the painting, picking out other laborers and passers-by. Each person seems cocooned in their own world, yet all come together as part of the same storyline.

The overall composition maintains this sense of balance, both in the variance in colors and the lines of the architecture. Cooler tones of the shadows and distant spaces are paired with the warmth of the sun’s rays cast against the building. Peachy, reddish, and golden colors stand out  in various, winding areas of the painting such as in the curtain draped across the rail, the building in the distance on the left lower side of the painting, the woman sewing on the bottom right corner, and in minor amounts further back in the space of the painting. Similarly, blues, whites, and grays are cast throughout the scene in a harmonious fashion: in the clouds to the left, the upper level of the building, and even in the back of the walkway, towards the bottom-right corner of the painting. Extravagance and (then) modern architecture is contrasted by the muted nature that seeps seamlessly into the stones of the walkway and dissipates with the sky.

The balanced yet striking composition is characteristic of Canaletto’s work. His immaculate angles and lines grant a realistic perspective reminiscent of an old photograph, such was his skill level. Canaletto’s use of strong shadows is on par with the era’s Venetian painting techniques, however, his ability to harmoniously counter them with the soft light of the sun is what sets him apart. The glowing effect it produces is one of the primary reasons his paintings were so highly coveted. His control and variance with the brushwork only further exemplifies his talent and mastery of the medium. Towards the lower right corner, where the covered pathway ends and opens up into what appears to be a square, the details become more fuzzy, as though the image is seen through the lens of a camera. It is very likely that this could be due to the Anglo-Saxon painting style which purportedly rubbed off on him during his time in London. Including such a technique would also help him to stand out as an artist.

It is easy to see how Canaletto could be hailed as “the undisputed creator of the carefully crafted painting of intense perspectives,” (Octave, 66). His raw talent and disciplined yet innovative mind became the perfect combination for topographical painting. Yet it was his spirit and love for his city which breathed passion and life into his work. As such , he shall always remain an integral part of Italian (and particularly Venetian)culture, and a keystone in the development of accuracy and perspective in oil painting.


Works Cited

“Canaletto – Palazzo Ducale in Venice Picture @ Uffizi Gallery, Florence.” Canaletto. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.

“Canaletto – The Complete Works.” Canaletto – The Complete Works. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.

“Canaletto – View of the Grand Canal Picture @ Uffizi Gallery, Florence.” Canaletto. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.

“Olga’s Gallery.” Canaletto. Biography. –. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.

Uzanne, Octave. Canaletto. Bournemouth: Parkstone, 2008. Print.

“Vota Il Quadro.” Ondarock Forum. N.p., n.d. Web. 16 Aug. 2013.