Canaletto’s dispersed works reunited at Museo di Roma

Sixty-seven of Canaletto’s most impressive works enchant anyone who witnesses Museo di Roma’s astonishing compilation. His vehement brushstrokes, playful lighting, and imaginative compositions pull the onlooker into Rome, Venice, and London with sensations of nostalgia and wonder. There is no doubt that Canaletto is an artist who deserves our astute attention even two and a half centuries after his death.

To commemorate the anniversary of his death, Museo di Roma displays his works from public and private collections from around the world. The exhibition chronologically guides one through his evolution as an apprentice to the most well-known of the eighteenth century vedutisti.

As a young man, Giovanni Antonio Canal studied set design under his father, thus earning the name Canaletto, or, “the little Canal.” Eight librettos related to Canaletto’s early theatrical experience are encased along one wall while music from Adriano Morselli’s The Coronation of Darius infuses the room. Vivaldi’s grandiose symphony accentuates the drama found in Bernardo Canal’s Santa Maria d’Aracoeli and the Campidoglio, Rome and Canaletto’s Puppet Show on the Piazzetta, Venice, also showcased in the room. Both oil on canvas works play with dark, soft colors and illustrate a mastery of light that captures the Roman atmosphere and highlights Venetian audience members.

Even after Canaletto traveled to Rome and developed his archeological capricci and Venetian vedute, Canaletto maintained his theatrical edge with minute details, playful lighting, and animated scenes. Many sketches and oil on canvas paintings dot the exhibition walls, but the Nocturnal Capriccio with Bridge is particularly arresting – its dark, earthy tones and blended brushstrokes is reminiscent of a tragedy that the viewer cannot look away from.

Canaletto establishes many of his paintings with a similar theatrical mood. The cloudy sky, decorative arches, ornate columns, busy figures, golden lighting, and intricate details of the Architectural Capriccio intrigue the viewer without overwhelming him. He establishes the scene with a wide, encompassing view, as if the onlooker is an audience member awaiting the start of a play. The figures pause in midmotion and seem to lean forward, ready to continue their tasks and come to life on the canvas.

Even with depictions of famous Roman ruins, Canaletto creates something entirely new. Viewers may discern Trajan’s column, the Capitoline Hill, and Santa Maria’s Basilica in Ara Coeli beside structures of his own creation. Canaletto entices audiences who know Rome by heart, inducing them to ponder his illusory, yet recognizable world.

One cannot leave the exhibition without admiring Canaletto’s Venetian vedute. Approaching the mid-eighteenth century, Canaletto captured the timeless Venetian landscape that continues to resonate with the 21st century viewer. Views of the Grand Canal evoke an undeniable admiration for their vividness – dozens of gondolas glide across the water, buildings stand crisp against the sky and dissolve into the canal, and ethereal light reflects from the cerulean water. The Rialto Bridge Seen from the North, illustrates L. Lanzi’s observation that “Everywhere he moves his brush, whether manufactories, water, clouds, or figures, he instils a vigorous quality, showing objects in their most impressive aspect.”

The exhibition concludes with Canaletto’s masterpieces from England, where he lived for nearly a decade. His landscape paintings became esteemed necessities for English gentlemen on the Grand Tour, which prompted him to move closer to the profitable market. His oil on canvas paintings illustrate a similar theatrical animation and harmonious blending between the figures and landscape. In Windsor Castle, figures speckle the canvas, poised for action, while the fortress looms in the background, delicate against the sky.

Till August 19

Museo di Roma

Piazza di S. Pantaleo, 10 (Navona)

Opening hours: Tues-Sun 10am-7pm

Entry fee: €11

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