The Entrance to the Grand Canal, looking East, with Santa Maria della Salute by Michele Marieschi

The Entrance to the Grand Canal, looking East with Santa Maria della Salute by Marieschi (c.1735)

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. 

Santa Maria della Salute

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.

Deutsches Eck, Koblenz Germany


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.

The Doge Leonardo Loredan by Giovanni Bellini

The Doge Leonardo Loredan by Giovanni Bellini

Giovanni Bellini was born in Venice around 1430 and was one of the greatest and most influential artists of the Italian Renaissance.  He came from a family of artists.  His father was Jacopo Bellini, an artist, and Giovanni and his brother Gentile trained under him. His sister married another great Renaissance artist Andrea Mantegna.  Giovanni had a long and prolific career living to the age of 85, during which he transformed Venice into a centre of artistic excellence which rivaled Rome and Florence as established centres of art.  Venetian painting rose to prominence during his time through his use of colour, light and atmosphere.   Bellini was a master of portraiture and today’s art display is one of his most famous works of portraiture,  Doge Leonardo Loredan.

This portrait hangs in the National Gallery in London.  Bellini completed this painting around 1502.  This formal portrait of the Doge at the beginning of his rule shows the hat, called a corno, which was worn over a linen cap.   His robe is made of luxurious, gold-threaded damask and is decorated with ornate buttons which were part of the official wardrobe.  This was a traditional style of portraiture for incumbent rulers of the time.   The style of this portrait is similar to the style of sculpted portrait busts which were often inspired by Roman sculpture.  Bellini’s signature can be seen below on the parapet in the form of a cartellino.  A cartellino being a piece of parchment or paper painted illusionistically, often as though attached to a wall or parapet in a painting, commonly with the artist’s name or that of the sitter.