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Largest-ever display of Canaletto paintings in Scotland goes on show at The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse

Release date: Thursday, 10 May 2018

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A new exhibition at The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse includes the largest group of Canaletto paintings ever shown in Scotland.  Canaletto & the Art of Venice, opening tomorrow (11 May), explores the work of Italy's most famous view-painter, and how he and his contemporaries captured the essence and allure of 18th-century Venice.  The Royal Collection contains one of the world's greatest holdings of Canaletto's paintings and drawings thanks to George III, who purchased the collection of Consul Smith, patron and dealer to the artist, for £20,000 in 1762. 

Among the highlights of the exhibition are Canaletto's most famous views of the Grand Canal.  These 12 vivid and precise paintings, executed over several years in the late 1720s, depict a near-complete journey down the waterway.  From the quayside palaces and workshops on the Grand Canal’s upper reaches to the bustling festivities around St Mark’s Square, the artist brilliantly captures the effects of light on stone and water, and fills each work with a snapshot of Venetian daily life. 

Canaletto frequently returned to the subject of the Grand Canal, and recent analysis of six pen-and-ink drawings has revealed his working methods.  A special camera was used by Royal Collection Trust conservators to pass infrared rays through the surface of  the drawings.  Ink is transparent to infrared wavelengths, and the camera only detected the carbon in the pencil underdrawing.  Research on the drawing The central stretch of the Grand Canal, c.1734 revealed how Canaletto meticulously set out the details of buildings, plotting in chimneys, façades and windows.  Using a ruler, he extended the lines of the architecture into the water to illustrate reflections of the buildings. 

The results of the analysis cast doubt on the long-held view that Canaletto used a 'camera obscura' to achieve topographical accuracy in his work.  A precursor of the modern camera, this device allowed artists to trace an inverted image of a view, formed by rays of light passing through a small hole in a box.  The infrared photography suggests that, rather than tracing the outlines of the buildings in the open air, for these drawings Canaletto plotted the scene with a pencil and ruler in his studio.  

Recently conserved and on display for the first time are a pair of paintings by Francesco Zuccarelli, an Italian artist whose work was hugely popular in Britain.  From around 1730 Zuccarelli devoted himself exclusively to landscapes, such as Landscape with Diana Appearing to Endymion, c.1740–45, and River Landscape with Apollo Pursuing Daphne, c.1740–45, which shows the mythological story from Ovid's Metamorposes.  The oil-on-panel paintings demonstrate the artist's ability to create mythological worlds on a small scale. The paint strokes suggest they were painted quickly, over skies already laid on the panel. 

Through over 100 paintings, drawings and prints drawn entirely from the Royal Collection, Canaletto & the Art of Venice  explores how artists captured the spirit of this thriving city, from its burgeoning theatre and opera scene to the grand public entertainments and religious spectacles.


Canaletto & the Art of Venice is at The Queen’s Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse, 11 May – 21 October 2018.

The accompanying publication, Canaletto & the Art of Venice, is published by Royal Collection Trust, price £29.95.

Visitor information and tickets for The Queen's Gallery, Palace of Holyroodhouse:  www.royalcollection.org.uk, T. (030) 3 123 7306.

A selection of images is available from www.picselect.com.  For further information and photographs, please contact the Royal Collection Trust Press Office, +44 (0)20 7839 1377, [email protected].

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