The National Maritime Museum, London presents a major new exhibition entitled Canaletto’s Venice Revisited which explores some of the most iconic view paintings of Venice and how the tourism which helped establish Canaletto’s career, today threatens the city’s future.
At the heart of the exhibition is the complete set of twenty-four Venetian views from Woburn Abbey, painted by Canaletto for Lord John Russell, the 4th Duke of Bedford, in the 1730s. This is the first time the paintings, thought to be Canaletto’s largest single commission, will be on display in their entirety outside of their ancestral home at Woburn Abbey. The collection includes twenty-two smaller views of Venice, depicting different aspects of the city, including iconic landmarks such as Piazza San Marco and the Grand Canal, as well as palaces, squares and churches.
Highlights of the exhibition are Woburn Abbey’s two monumental views of A Regatta on the Grand Canal and The Grand Canal, Ascension Day: The embarkation of the Doge of Venice for the Ceremony of the Marriage of the Adriatic.
These paintings were commissioned as souvenirs following Lord John Russell’s visit to the city as part of the Grand Tour which was considered a rite of passage for the wealthy in the eighteenth century.
Canaletto’s Venice Revisited explores these origins of Venice’s tourist industry through some of the personal objects belonging to the Dukes of Bedford.
The Grand Tour is important to understand Canaletto artist development. His reputation was built on producing a relatively rapid turnover of works of art for the wealthy visiting Venice.
The exhibition highlights the painstaking detail Canaletto used to set his work apart from his competitors.
Canaletto’s three-hundred-year-old paintings highlight the uniqueness of Venice which has changed little over the centuries. However it can considered that his success in promoting Venice as a destination had the consequence that over the last three centuries, tourism has changed the city and its population.
Like a number of cities, Venice faces urgent threats from mass tourism and severe flooding as climate change brings rising sea levels. The exhibition revisits Venice today and considers some of the issues and possible solutions.
The exhibition concludes with the annual Ascension Day festival as recorded in Canaletto’s painting from the Woburn Abbey collection. The festival celebrates Venice’s today often precarious relationship with the sea.
This fascinating exhibition provides plenty of insights into the one of the paradoxes of ancient and historical sights. On one hand, tourism provides wealth and prestige to the local economy but too much tourism and the places become just a time capsule and not a living place. One of the ironies of the exhibition is that Greenwich itself suffers from mass tourism.
Canaletto is often considered just a painter for tourist pictures for the wealthy but a close inspection of the paintings in the exhibition illustrates his often radical approach in painting dynamic and vibrant scenes. His representations of Venice were not always accurate but were mostly full of life and movement.
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
For more information , visit the Royal Museums Greenwich website here
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