Who can’t help but admire the striking canal views of 18th century Italian painter Canaletto? Famous for his beautiful portrayals of Venice , including grand sights like Doge's Palace and St Mark's Square, I don’t normally associate him with works such as his ‘The Stonemason's Yard,’ which shows a less than extraordinary view of the city, depicting several dwellings in poor repair as masons work down below. This scene stands in sharp contrast to the churches and other buildings seen in the background, located on the other side of the Grand Canal. In addition his precise architectural rendering, Canaletto’s paintings always supply a wealth of human observations—granted you brought a microscope--however those seen in the foreground of ‘The Stonemason's Yard’ are less than flattering. I’m inclined to wonder if this was his attempt social commentary, reporting his subjects’ living conditions to garner either sympathy or ridicule from the viewer. One can only speculate.
I am reminded of Jacob Riis’s ‘How the Other Half Lives,’ a late-19th century photo essay intended to expose New York City’s slums.
Here is ‘Bandit's Roost’ from that essay:
Again, until discovering ‘Yard’ I was completely unaware of this socially conscious element within Canaletto’s work, and with that in mind it makes me want to view his other paintings again with a more informed eye.
For more of this piece, located at the National Gallery, UK, check out http://www.nationalgallery.org.uk/paint
That aside, if find this work very aesthetically pleasing. I’ve always been drawn to urban views which cut passed the shiny surface to show you the gears turning beneath.
I've provided close up details behind the cut.