Bernardo Bellotto. Part 2.

Bernardo Bellotto.jpg
Detail of Self-portrait as Venetian ambassador

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. 

View of the Kreuzkirche in Ruins by Bellotto (1765)

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.

Dresden, the Ruins of the Pirnaische Vorstadt by Bellotto (1763)

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…”

Dresden from the Neustädter Bridgehead, by Bellotto (1765)

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.

Architectural Capriccio with a Self-Portrait in the costume of a Venetian Nobleman by Bellotto (1765)

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.

View of Warsaw from the Royal Palace by Bellotto (1773)

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.

Ujazdów Castle, by Bellotto (“Canaletto”) about 1775

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.

Views of Warsaw from the Suburbs of Praga by Bellotto (1770)

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.

The artist at work

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.

Miodowa Street by Bellotto (1777)

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.

View of the Kreuzkirche in Ruins by Bernardo Bellotto

View of the Kreuzkirche in Ruins by Bernardo Bellotto (1765)

My choice of painting for My Daily Art Display blog today is based on a modicum on nostalgia and the return of a small amount of wanderlust.   Next year, at the end of May, I am contemplating a week away on my own to coincide with my wife’s week long vacation with “les girls” and so I am trying to decide where to take myself off to.  I need to decide whether to spend a week looking out at the blue seas of the Mediterranean or have a cultural week looking around the art galleries and museums of a city.  At the moment, and because the sea may not be that warm at the end of May, I am leaning towards the artistic route as my get away.  Presently I am toying with the idea of either Palermo in Sicily, a place I have never visited or maybe I will return to Germany after many years away from this beautiful country and spend some time in either Munich and/or Dresden.   The nostalgia aspect of this blog is to do with Dresden, a city I visited with my children about five years ago.  I fell in love with this beautiful city with its magnificent buildings and I have always wanted to return.   The nostalgia was brought on when I came across a painting the other day which jogged my memory of the happy times we had in this former East German city and some of its beautiful architecture.  The featured painting today is entitled View of the Kreuzekirche in Ruins by the eighteenth century Italian artist Bernardo Bellotto.

Bernardo Bellotto was born in Venice in 1721.  He was the son of Lorenzo Antonio Bellotto and Fiorenza Domenica Canal, the sister of Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known to us as Canaletto.  Bellotto’s initial artistic training was in his uncle’s workshop where he worked from the age of fourteen.  At the age of eighteen Bellotto became a member of the Fraglia dei Pittori (Venetian painters’ guild).  In the early 1740’s he and his uncle, Canaletto, took a trip along the Brenta canal to Padua during which time the two amassed a number of sketches which were later translated into completed oil paintings.

In 1742 Bellotto left Venice and travelled extensively around the Northern Italian cities, stopping off at Florence and Lucca and at each stop he would complete a verduta of the place.   A verduta is a highly detailed, usually large-scale painting of a cityscape or some other vista.   These painting were very popular with the foreigners who travelled around Italy on their Grand Tour and wanted to bring home something to remind them of the places they had visited.  He eventually arrived in Rome where he studied study architectural and topographical painting.   He remained in Rome until 1743 at which time he journeyed back to Venice.

Bellotto left Italy for good in 1747.  The rest of his life was spent travelling around the capital cities of Europe and picking up commissions from the various royal courts.  He was invited to Dresden in 1747 by the then ruler Frederick-Augustus II, Elector of Saxony who was also King Augustus III of Poland.  Some historians believe that Augustus actually wanted Canaletto but as he was bound for England at the time, he had to settle for his nephew !  Bellotto, who was by now a married man and had a son, Lorenzo, was suffering financially from a declining art market in Venice and jumped at the chance to work for Augustus.   The money Augustus offered Bellotto was the most paid to an artist working at the court of Saxony.   Bellotto worked in Dresden for eleven years as court painter.  His commission from Augustus was to paint twenty-nine large-sized canvases, some measuring almost three metres wide, depicting scenes of the cities of Dresden and Pirna and of the fortresses of Sonnenstein and Königstein.  These canvases, most of them almost two and a half metres wide, were to be hung in the royal painting gallery in the Stallhof, which forms part of the Royal Palace in Dresden.  Bellotto’s depictions of the city of Dresden were remarkable for their topographical meticulousness, mathematical perspective and the way in which he portrayed the way the light played on the various architectural structures.  The way he handled the light was truly remarkable.

In 1756, the fierce conflict of the Seven Year War, which had affected many European countries, arrived in Dresden and within months the city of Dresden was overrun by Prussian troops.    Augustus fled to Warsaw and Bellotto moved away from Dresden and took up residence in Pirna.  In 1758 Bellotto left his wife and daughters behind in Pirna and with his son travelled to Vienna as he had been fortunate to have received an invitation from Empress Maria Theresa to come to city and paint a number of cityscapes depicting many of the city’s buildings, royal residences and monuments.   In 1763, just as the Seven Year War was coming to an end Bellotto decided to leave Vienna and return to his wife and daughters in Dresden to see if his erstwhile patron August III could give him some work.   Bellotto, on the way to Dresden, stopped off at Munich, where with a letter of recommendation from Maria Theresa to the Electress of Bavaria, Maria Antonia, who also happened to be Augustus’ daughter was given commissioned to paint some panoramic views of the city and the palace of Nymphenburg.   He then headed back to Dresden full of hope for future commissions from his erstwhile royal patron.   However Bellotto’s best made plans failed as the war had played havoc with the city of Dresden which lay in ruins and his former patron, August III had died.  Dresden had run out of money and there was no longer a post for him as court painter.   The commissioning and purchasing of art for the city was no longer in the hands of the ruler but was now controlled by the city’s newly formed Dresden Academy of Fine Arts which had been established in 1764.

With little work in prospect Bellotto left Dresden in 1767 and travelled to Warsaw.  Here he was employed by King Stanislaus Poniatowski, who commissioned Bellotto to complete a number of large-scale paintings depicting the city of Warsaw.  In all Bellotto completed twenty views of Warsaw itself and four of Wilanow Palace. Almost all of these paintings can be found in the Canaletto Hall in the Royal Palace of Warsaw.

Bellotto remained in Warsaw for sixteen years and died in the city in 1780 at the age of 59.

The Kreuzekirche in Dresden by Bellotto (1747-56)

My Daily Art Display features Bellotto’s depiction of the ruins of the Kreuzkirche in Dresden, which 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.

This painting is one of Bellotto’s later works, painted during his second stay in Saxony. It demonstrates his quite extraordinary, perhaps unique, capacity to capture the spirit of an event.  This ruin, painted by Bellotto 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 above).   However in today’s featured work all we see are 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.

As we look at the painting, our first thoughts are that Bellotto had actually painted an ancient ruin but of course he hadn’t.  The great medieval church which was situated in central Dresden was the subject of earlier paintings by Bellotto showing it in all its glory and so the artist was probably grief-stricken as he looked upon what was once his beloved church and which had now been partially destroyed by the advancing Prussian artillery

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.

For those of you interested in the history of this great church, here is a potted history of the building:

The Kreuzkirche or Holy Cross Church is the main reformed church of Dresden.
Its history started in 1206, when at his spot a small chapel was located for travelling tradesmen.
In 1215 a Basilica was built named “Nikolaikirche”, after the protecting saint for the tradesmen.
In 1388 the Meißen Bishop renamed the church into Holy Cross Church (as in 1234 a splinter of the original cross was given to and stored inside the church).
In 1491 the church is destroyed by fire. A new church is built in Gothic style.
In 1539 the first Lutheran service is held in the church, now being the main reformed church of town.
In 1584 the tower is added to the church, but in 1689 is destroyed by fire and rebuilt.
In 1760 the church gets damaged during the seven year war.

In 1792 a new church is built in Baroque style; much of the outer design is still visible in the present building.
In 1897 another fire damaged the center section; the reconstruction is done in Jugenstil.
In 1945 the church is burned to the ground during the bombardments.
In 1955 the church is reopened again, but the building is restored and improved in the years after.