At the end of 1761 Bellotto returned to his home Dresden to find it had been devastated during the Prussian invasion. Worse, was the fact that he found himself in great financial difficulty arising from the death of two of his major patrons, Augustus III, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland and Count Heinrich Bruhl, the prime minister of Saxony in 1763.
Their deaths and his financial situation made Bellotto melancholic and it was around this time that he painted the Kreuzkirche which now lay in ruins. It had been partially destroyed during the Seven Year War, at a time when Bellotto had been forced to flee the city. The painting is entitled View of the Kreuzkirche in Ruins and was completed by Bellotto in 1765. The Kreuzkirche is the oldest church in Dresden and, during the conflict, was shelled by Prussian artillery. The building was set ablaze and finally collapsed. The church tower, though damaged, remained standing. Work commenced on the reconstruction the church and it was decided to preserve the original tower. Unfortunately, in June 1765, with the construction of the new church already under way, the greater part of the tower collapsed. The painting is a good example of how Bellotto unique, capacity to capture the spirit of an event. His depiction of the ruin is an unusual one for it is not an ancient ruin as far as the artist was concerned. It was a relatively new one as the destruction had only occurred five years earlier. Bellotto had completed a work depicting the great church some years earlier (see painting in the previous blog). However, in this work, we see the jagged remnants of the church rear up skywards. The cleanliness of the once beautiful church has gone. There is nothing clean about the church now. The scene before us is just a mass of noise and dirt. It is a chaotic scene which we find hard to believe that it could ever be put back to its former glory. The Church, as the body of Christ, has been violated all over again and the civic wounds of the German city have been violently opened for all to see. This is the price to be paid when once we set forth to war. In the painting we see many of Dresden citizens. Close to the ruins we can just make out craftsmen as they start their preparations to rebuild the once –beautiful edifice. On the periphery we see men and women dressed in their best clothes staring at the ruin. For them it was just a day out to visit the site where the destruction had taken place. For them it was just blatant voyeurism.
Another melancholic landscape Bellotto painted around this time was his bleak depiction of the town where he used to live, Pirna, destroyed by Prussian artillery fire.
In the mid 1760’s there was a revival of classical antiquity in art and Bellotto turned to painting idealised views featuring classical motifs that he had once drawn when living in Venice and Rome. In 1764 the Dresden Academy of Fine Art was founded by order of the Prince-Elector Frederick Christian and at that time, Christian Ludwig von Hagerdorn was the Academy’s general director of the Saxon Art Collections. Hagerdorn disliked Bellotto and by-passed him when he applied to become a professor of the Academy. It could be the fact that Bellotto could not speak German which rankled him or maybe it was Bellotto’s style of painting as Hagerdorn once wrote of Bellotto:
“…He loses no opportunity of bringing up the subject of his dreary art and his enormous family…”
Franz Xavier who had taken on the role of the regency of the Electorate of Saxony together with his sister-in-law, the Dowager Electress Maria Antonia of Bavaria intervened and Bellotto was admitted to the Academy and granted a three-year teaching post and given the title of “associate member for perspective”. Belloto’s reception piece was his 1765 painting, Dresden from the Neustädter Bridgehead.
Bellotto took part in the Academy’s first exhibition on March 5th 1765. He submitted four of his works, one of which was his painting entitled Architectural Capriccio with a Self-Portrait in the costume of a Venetian Nobleman. It is an idealised setting incorporating a number of famous Venetian buildings including the Marciana Library. The gentleman in the foreground wearing the red robes and a heavily embroidered sash on his left shoulder of a Venetian procurator is thought to be a self-portrait. Look closely at the pillar behind the dignitary and you will see a handbill. On it is a quotation by the Roman poet Horace:
Pictoribus atque poetis
Quidlibet audendi semper fuit aequa postestas
which translates to:
Painters and poets have always shared an equal right to dare to do whatever they wanted.
One can only believe that Bellotto added this poster with the saying of Horace to remind people that it is correct to believe that anything is possible.
Bellotto was not happy at the Academy and found it harder and harder to work under Hagedorn and so, half way through his three year tenure he requested a leave of absence so that he could travel to St Petersburg. Russia at the time was ruled by Catherine the Great who was known for her support for foreign artists. On his way to Saint Petersburg, however, Bellotto accepted an invitation in 1764 from Poland’s newly elected King Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski to become one of his court painters in Warsaw. Poniatowski was an avid art collector who wanted to add to his collection. Bellotto wrote to the Dresden Academy asking for an extension to his leave of absence and once granted he summoned his wife and daughters to come and live in Warsaw. His wages as court painter managed to elevate him financially to his former status.
Bellotto started to work on his royal commission to provide a number of paintings depicting panoramic cityscapes of both Warsaw and Rome to be hung at the royal palace, the Ujazdów Castle, which was situated just outside the city and was, at that time, being refurbished. The idea of having depictions of the two cities side by side was to infer that Warsaw was the “new Rome”. He was allocated the large room on the ground floor of the castle for his large works. However, the refurbishments met with financial problems and the work was eventually abandoned, and in 1777, Bellotto’s paintings were moved to the Royal Castle in Warsaw. As Bellotto painted more views of Warsaw, they took the place of some of the paintings depicting Rome. His paintings were hung in the antechamber outside the Throne Room and were visible to the ambassadors and other dignitaries who had come for an audience with the king. The room became known as the Canaletto Room and Bellotto’s paintings today are still to be seen in that room.
In its place at the centre of the south wall of the antechamber is Bellotto’s masterpiece, View of Warsaw from the Suburb of Praga.
It is an all-encompassing panoramic view of Warsaw which also incorporates a self-portrait of the artist sitting at his easel in the far left foreground.
Bellotto remained in Warsaw for sixteen years and died suddenly from a stroke in the city on November 17th, 1780 at the age of 59. He was buried in the Capuchin Church at Miodowa Street. The street was the subject of his 1777 painting and the church where he was buried can be seen in the left background emerging from behind the trees. Bellotto’s wife, Elisabetta, died five years later and their daughter Theresia Francisca left the city with her husband and hundreds of her father’s paintings and went to live in Vilnius, Lithuania.
Bellotto completed more than three hundred paintings, about a third of which were cityscapes which glorified some of the great capitals of Europe. The paintings were highly original but always managed to meet with the social and political demands of his patrons.