Venice in the Age of Canaletto
October 8, 2009- January 10, 2010
Venice in the Age of Canaletto is a collaborative project between The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art and the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art that will consider Giovanni Antonio Canal, called Canaletto in a Venetian context. In particular, it will focus upon the contrast between the artist’s paintings and the works of his contemporaries also active in the city. Canaletto’s vedute, or view paintings, were arguably the most familiar artistic products of eighteenth-century Venice; yet, for all their ability to reproduce immediately recognizable views of the city, they are curiously devoid of the exuberance, sensuality, and rich coloring of most Venetian art of the period. When Canaletto’s paintings are compared with the works of Giambattista Tiepolo, Francesco Guardi, and Sebastiano Ricci, they are revealed as beautiful but rather anomalous creations. The exhibition will explore the strange tension that exists between Canaletto’s austere, seemingly realistic cityscapes and the exuberant, pastelline fantasies, religious pictures, and historical dramas of the Venetian Rococo.
Venice in the Age of Canaletto will consider a span of approximately 100 years, beginning in 1697, the year of the artist’s birth, and ending in 1797, the year that Napoleon invaded the city and brought the Venetian Republic to an end. This period captures the fascinating social, religious, political, and artistic evolution that precipitated the end of the Republic. The exhibition focuses upon a time when Venice, perhaps more than any other European city, cultivated an elusive civic image of pleasure, fantasy, and escapism.
Of course, one of the greatest goals of the project is to shed more light upon the context in which Canaletto evolved. By exploring the rich cultural and artistic environment in which Canaletto worked, the project will result in a better understanding of the artist and his contemporaries. In order to illustrate how Canaletto is not only an integral part of Venetian culture but at the same time an exception to it, the exhibition will be organized around five main themes: “Along the Grand Canal”—which will introduce images of the city, familiarizing the visitor with the spectacle of Venice’s architecture that seemed miraculously to float on water. Using prints by Antonio Visentini after view paintings by Canaletto, this section will also introduce the phenomenon of tourist travel, on which Venice’s livelihood hinged, and consider in particular the role vedute played in fashioning the identity of the Venetian Republic; “Inside the Venetian Palazzo”—will be an exploration of genre images, which, in contrast to vedute, depict both the public and private lives of their subject in a far more intimate manner. It will also consider the fantastic and sensual decorative arts of Venice, which, distinctive for their sense of fantasy and sensuality, are a unique product of the city. Standing in such stark contrast to the more detached, cool pictures of Canaletto, this part of the exhibition will reveal the remarkable exuberance of the decorative arts, and how these objects in many ways typify the city; “Grand Palazzo Painting”—will act as a continuation of the previous section, elaborating on the types of images found in Venetian palaces and villas, focusing in particular on large-scale canvas and fresco cycles that were also common embellishments in patrician interiors; “Public and Private Devotion in Venice”—focuses upon works for ecclesiastical and private devotional settings. This part of the exhibition will explore privately commissioned works for religious spaces, offering a fascinating chance to consider how religious art of churches and chapels reflects individual needs and desires as well as popular taste; “View Painting and the Rise of Canaletto”— traces the birth of the vedute in Venice during the eighteenth century, considering in particular the role of foreign tourism in shaping its demand in the art market. Beginning with Canaletto’s predecessors, it will also demonstrate how Canaletto came to dominate the genre, emphasizing how his apparently literal, unbiased translations of Venice reflected an idealized view of the city. It will also explore the particularly Venetian experience of engaging and involving visitors in civic celebrations, and how the popularity of Canaletto reveals more about the tastes and desires of visitors to the city than those of its residents.