Bernardo Bellotto, was an 18th C Venetian urban landscape painter, famous for his views of European cities: Dresden, Vienna, Turin, and Warsaw.
He was the student and nephew of the renowned Canaletto and sometimes used the latter’s illustrious name, signing himself as Bernardo Canaletto. Indeed, in Germany and Poland, Bellotto called himself by his uncle’s name, Canaletto. This caused his uncle, some criticism during his English period; particularly towards the accreditation of his own Venetian works.
Bellotto’s style was characterised by elaborate representation of architectural and natural vistas and by the specific quality of each place’s lighting. The fidelity of his views, may be in part attributable; to the use of the camera obscura.
However, Bellotto’s work is more sombre and cooler in colour, than Canatello and his depiction of clouds and heavier shadows; brings him closer to Dutch painting. This was to remain a characteristic of his style for the rest of his career.
It was only towards the end of the 20th century that Bellotti, emerged from the shadows of his famous uncle; to be judged a distinct artistic personality, in his only right.
(c. 1721/2 or 30th January, 1721 – 17th November, 1780).
There are reported discrepancies, in his birth-date.
Detail of “Self-portrait as Venetian ambassador” (c. 1765).
Bernardo Bellotto – Life
Early life and training. Bellotto was born in Venice, the son of Lorenzo Antonio Bellotto and Fiorenza Canal, sister of the famous Canaletto.
Bellotto had a precocious talent. He received his earliest training from about 1735 onwards, with his uncle; the celebrated view painter Canaletto. He was accepted into the “Fraglia dei Pittori” (Venetian painters’ guild) at the age of just 16.
Above: Bernardo Belotto. “Venice: Upper Reaches of the Grand Canal facing Santa Croce” (1738)
( Note. The Grand Canal painting above, is a very early work by Bernardo Bellotto, painted in around 1738; when he was only about 16 years old and working in his uncle’s studio in Venice. By this time he was creating his own versions of some of Canaletto’s most popular views. He prepared this composition, which shows the Grand Canal with the church of Santa Croce to the right, in a drawing (Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt), itself based on a design by Canaletto (Royal Collection, Windsor Castle). While Bellotto has followed Canaletto’s scene quite closely here – the beautiful barge (burchiello) to the left appears in both; he altered the figures and boats in the foreground. Bellotto’s distinctive style can be seen even at this early stage. He tends towards a silvery light and cool palette and has used thick, broad brushstrokes (impasto) to create clouds and give texture to the turquoise water.)
Touring Europe and never to return. In the 1740’s Bellotto travelled extensively around the Italian peninsula, producing views of various cities including Florence, Rome, Verona and Turin
Note. Bellotto’s style developed from his early works. In the paintings below, his depiction of architectural components could be bathed in either warmer or cooler light. Bellotto’s scenes below, are all almost 90 degree cross lit, the shadows deep, but with his figures caught in the sunlight; giving depth and interest to the picture. The paintings are rather classically composed, weighted to the bottom and often to the sides, with a distinct fore (people), mid (architecture) and background (sky). The sky tone still remains cooler in tone, although generally more blue.
Two early Bellotto paintings. L. “The Colosseum and Arch of Constantine, Rome” (1742). R. “The Piazza della Signoria in Florence” (1741)
In 1742, he moved to Rome, where he produced view scenes (vedute) of that city.
Later, in 1744 and 1745 he travelled northern Italy, again depicting vedute of each city. Amongst others, he worked for Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy.
From 1747 to 1758, he moved to Dresden, following an invitation from King Augustus III of Poland and Elector of Saxony. He created paintings of the cities Dresden and Pirna and their surroundings. Today these paintings preserve a memory of Dresden’s former beauty, which was destroyed by bombing during World War II.
Above. “The Market Place at Pirna“. (c. 1760)
Following the escalation of the Seven Years’ War around 1758 and his growing international reputation; he accepted an invitation from Empress Maria Theresa to come to Vienna, where he painted views of the city’s monuments.
In 1761, Bellotto left Vienna for Munich, where he spent almost a year.
In a letter to her cousin Maria Antonia of Bavaria, Empress Maria Theresia had praised Bellotto’s artistic achievements at the Viennese court. The ruling family of Bavaria commissioned works.
He painted a panoramic view of Munich and two views of Nymphenburg Palace; for the elector of Bavaria.
L. “View of the city of Munich, seen from Haidhausen“. (1761) R. “The Fortress of Konigstein” Saxony. (1758)
Bound for Russia. When King Augustus III of Poland, also an Elector of Saxony, who usually lived in Dresden died in 1763; Bellotto’s work became less important in Dresden. As a consequence, he left Dresden to seek employment in Saint Petersburg; at the court of Catherine II of Russia.
On his way to Saint Petersburg, however, Bellotto accepted an invitation in 1764, from Poland’s newly elected King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski; to become his court painter in Warsaw from 1768.
Life and death in Poland. Bellotto remained some 13 years, for the rest of his life; as court painter to the King.
He painted numerous views of the Polish capital and its environs for the Royal Castle in Warsaw; complementing the great historical paintings commissioned by Poniatowski, from Marcello Bacciarelli.
His initial commissions included painted decoration of the Ujazdów Castle between 1767 and 1770. Unfortunately, a study of an illusionistic vault, is the only preserved example of profuse decoration, lost in 1784; during the reconstruction of the castle into military barracks.
L. “Wilanów Palace as seen from the garden” (1776)
In 1769, the painter and his son Lorenzo (1744–1770) accomplished another large royal commission: fourteen views of Rome, ancient and papal. These were based on the collection of etchings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi entitled “Vedute di Roma”.
The collection was dispersed in the early 19th century and today various paintings can be admired in different museums in Russia. The “Roman Forum” as seen from the Capitol to the south-east and the “Piazza della Rotonda with Pantheon” (Museum of Fine Arts in Moscow), the “View of the Piazza Navona” (State Museum in Gorky), the “View of S. Maria Maggiore” (Museum of Art in Khabarovsk) and in private collections.
His paintings of Warsaw, comprised of 26 vedute, painted between 1770–80 to embellish the so-called “Panorama Room” (later Canaletto Room) at the Royal Castle in Warsaw and later relocated to Russia; were restored to the Polish Government in 1921. They were used in rebuilding the city, after its near-complete destruction, by German troops during World War II.
Bellotto created a school of painting, which was later continued and developed by Zygmunt Vogel and Marcin Zaleski.
He died in Warsaw in 1780 and was buried in Capuchin Church in Miodowa Street.
Bernardo Bellotto, also produced Capriccio views and paper prints from etching plates.
L. “Dresden – the ruins of the pirnaische vorstadt” (1766) Print from Etching. R. “Capriccio with the Colosseum, Rome“. (1745).
Appreciation. It was only towards the end of the 20th century that Bellotti, emerged from the shadows of his famous uncle; to be judged a distinct artistic personality, in his only right.
Today, Bellotto is best known for his views of northern European cities, which are considered his greatest achievements. These works are characterised by panoramic compositions, strongly contrasted use of light and shadow and meticulous attention to architectural detail.
Such was Bellotto’s precision, that his late views of Warsaw played a crucial role in that city’s reconstruction; after the Second World War.
Please see my introductory post, on the Second Golden Age of Art: together with its most important artists:
Foreign Artists working in Venice
Bernardo Bellotto Bernardo Bellotto Bernardo Bellotto Bernardo Bellotto