12 December 2013

Art for Advent (12): The Canal Grande and
Santa Maria della Salute, by Canaletto

‘The Entrance to the Canal Grande at the Punta della Dogana and the Santa Maria della Salute, by Canaletto

Patrick Comerford

I return to Venice this morning [12 December 2013] for a choice of a work of art to think about on this day in Advent. my choice of a painting this morning is ‘The Entrance to the Canal Grande at the Punta della Dogana and the Santa Maria della Salute,’ painted by Canaletto ca 1730-1745.

This paining, in oil on canvas, measured 61 × 79.5 cm, and was bequeathed to the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, in 1941 by JWE vom Rath of Amsterdam.

Giovanni Antonio Canal, or Canaletto, was born in Venice on 17 or 18 October 1697, and died there on 19 April 1768.

Canaletto was the son of the painter Bernardo Canal and Artemisia Barbieri, and served his apprenticeship with his father and his brother. He began his career painting the daily life of his city and its people, and recording the seasonal submerging of Venice under water and ice. His first known signed and dated work is Architectural Capriccio (1723, Milan, private collection).

His early works are his most coveted and his best. Later he painted grand scenes of the canals of Venice and the Doge’s Palace. His large-scale landscapes portray the city’s pageantry and traditions, with strong local colours.

Joseph Smith, who became the British Consul in Venice in 1744, acted as an agent for Canaletto from the early 1720s, and many of his pictures were sold to English visitors on the Grand Tour.

In 1746 Canaletto moved to London, to be closer to his market, and his first painting there was of Westminster Bridge that year. He stayed in England until 1755, painting views of London and of his patrons’ castles and houses. He returned to Venice, and continued to paint until his death in 1768.

Joseph Smith sold much of his collection to George III, creating the bulk of the large collection of works by Canaletto owned by the Royal Collection. There are many examples of his work in other British collections, including 19 at the Wallace Collection and 24 in Woburn Abbey. A large set of Canaletto works was lost in a fire in Castle Howard in 1940, although four Canaletto paintings still hang in Castle Howard.

The Salute church was designed by Baldassare Longhena (1598–1682) and building work begin in 1631. The church was a thanksgiving by the city for its deliverance from the virulent plague of the previous year.

The Church of Santa Maria della Salute, generally known simply as the Salute, stands on a narrow finger of land between the Grand Canal and the Bacino di San Marco so that this baroque basilica can be seen when entering Saint Mark’s Square (the Piazza San Marco) from the water. The Salute is part of the parish of the Gesuati and is the most recent of the so-called plague-churches in Venice.

In 1630, Venice suffered a devastating outbreak of the plague that killed about a third of the people. Repeated displays of the Blessed Sacrament, as well as prayers and processions to churches dedicated to San Rocco and San Lorenzo Giustiniani had failed to stem the epidemic.

Following an earlier deliverance from the plague in 1575-1576, the Senate of Venice had commissioned Palladio to design the Redentore church. Now, the Senate decreed on 22 October 1630, decreed that a new church would be built, and dedicated not to a plague or patron saint, but to the Virgin Mary, who was regarded as a protector of the Republic.

As a votive offering for the city’s deliverance, the Republic of Venice built and dedicated a church to Our Lady of Health (or of Deliverance, ‘Salute’). The church was designed by Baldassare Longhena, and building work began in 1631.

The Salute stands close to the Dogana da Mar or Custom House, symbol of the city’s maritime power and trade, and some of the most important buildings in Venice (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The church is in the form of a rotunda, an innovative concept for Venice. As he worked on the designed, Longhena said, he thought of “what little talent God has bestowed upon me of building the church in the ... shape of a crown.” He envisaged the structure as crown-like, the decorative circular building making it a reliquary that would shelter the city’s piety.

The location was chosen partially due to its relationship to San Giorgio, San Marco, and Il Redentore, with which it forms an arc. The Salute stands close to the Dogana da Mar or Custom House, symbol of the city’s maritime power and trade. Close-by are some of the most important buildings in Venice, including the Patriarchal Seminary, the mint, the library, the Piazzetta, and the Palazzo Ducale, and the prison.

The Senate agreed to visit the church each year on November 21, the Feast of the Presentation of the Virgin, known as the Festa della Madonna della Salute. Each year, in a major celebration that continues in Venice, the city’s officials process from Piazza San Marco to the Salute, crossing the Grand Canal on a specially-built pontoon bridge.

The church was finally completed in 1681, the year before Longhena died, and 16 years before Canaletto was born.

Canaletto painted many versions of the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, from different angles. His largest and most famous canvas of the church dates from 1744 and is in the British royal collection.

The dome of the Salute was an important addition to the Venice skyline and has inspired Canaletto and other artists, including JMW Turner, John Singer Sargent and Francesco Guardi.

The Salute was designed by Longhena as a rotunda in the shape of a crown and its dome has inspired many artists (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Tomorrow:Noah and the Dove’ by Simon Maltby.

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