Canaletto, 1738, Oil on canvas
124.5 × 204.5 cm (49 × 80.5 in)
National Gallery, London
Although Canaletto’s masterful representation of Venice’s Grand Canal appears highly naturalistic in its execution, the painting idealizes, manipulates, and crafts the scene in order to present a highly symbolic rendering of Venice’s most iconic structures and landscapes. The Church of Santa Maria di Nazareth situated on the right-hand side, for example, had many of its architectural details altered by Canaletto, such as the gesturing statues on its façade. In the left distance is the pitched-roof church of Santa Croce. To the left is San Simeone Piccolo, and at far left are Palazzo Foscari-Contarini and Casa Adolfo. In this painting, Canaletto condensed the composition by significantly reducing the number of buildings between San Simeone and Santa Croce in order for the viewer to see the two buildings at once, a distorted perspective and impossible view. Canaletto also manipulates various other aspects of the view; from the brightness of the sky, to the gentle curvature and undulations of the orthogonal lines, to the mixing between broad brushstrokes and dense detail, everything is carefully orchestrated to optically control one’s experience with the painting, ingesting an idealized and romantic view of Venice, a symbol of its counterpart in reality.