I went to Venice today. It was my first visit to this beautiful place. I decided that once again My Daily Art Display should be a painting by a Venetian artist depicting this stunning city. The painter is Michele Marieschi and his work is entitled The Entrance to the Grand Canal, looking East, with Santa Maria della Salute. Although Venice is associated with the likes of Canaletto and Guardi I decided to select a painting of Venice by a less well-known artist. Michele Marieschi, the son of an engraver, was born in 1710 and was a contemporary of the two great Venetian artists, Canaletto and Francesco Guardi and in some ways probably suffered from their presence.
What we are looking at in this painting is the entrance to the Grand Canal which is dominated by the magnificent Basilica of St Mary of Health known locally as Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. This Roman Catholic church or basilica is situated on a small tongue of land between the Grand Canal to the left as we look at the picture and the Bacino di San Marco to the right. The dome of the basilica was an important addition to the Venetian skyline and was an inspiration to such artists as Guardi, Canaletto, Turner and Singer Sargent. The basilica was built in the late seventeenth century by the Venetian architect, Baldassare Longhena in thankfulness for the ending of the bubonic plague which killed more than 80,000 Venetians in 1630. This view has probably been taken from the monastery of San Gregorio which stands on the corner meeting point of the Grand Canal and the Rio della Salute and is on the opposite side of the Rio della Salute to the basilica. If you follow the way past the steps of the basilica you can just make out the tower of Dogana da Mar the original Customs house which once controlled all movement of boats and their goods in and out of Venice. On the opposite side of the Grand Canal are the Palazzo Manolesso and Contarini Fasan and if you look closely you can just make out the top of the famous Campanile of San Marco. As with all Venetian scenes the water is full of boats of various shapes and sizes, some gondolas, others cargo boats. If you look closely at the cargo boat in the left foreground it is loaded with cases marked “Roma” “Vienna” and “M:S:” the latter thought to be the artists signature. It is interesting to see how the artist has divided the scene vertically by the long mast of the boat which is tied alongside the quay. In some ways it balances the composition. This composition has a two point perspective. When you look at the basilica and the surrounding quay you get a strange sensation maybe caused by the “V” shape of the quay, that the bottom of the basilica appears to be coming towards you whilst the dome of the basilica seems to be moving away. Art historians believe that this illusion may be because Marieschi used a camera obscura to paint this picture.
When I first saw this painting I was immediately reminded of Deutsches Eck at Koblenz, the triangular shaped headland, which is at the confluence of the rivers Rhine and Mosel and on which is the giant equestrian statue in honour of Emperor William I. It is strange the impression a painting gives you of a place. You take it that it is almost a photograph and I was very suprised when I arrived at the place shown in the painting. It was so different. The distance from the bottom step of the basilica to the quay edge is no more than 10 paces. I was expecting it to be like the Deutches Eck and the corner would be at least 50 metres away from the quay edgea nd that was based on the number of “small” people in the painting between the steps and the corner point of the quay. So although the camera doesn’t lie, the painting does!!!
Notwithstanding that the painting like Venice itself is truly magnificent.