Saint Mark's Square in the 18th centurye century

Saint Mark's Square in the 18th century<sup>e</sup> century

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Saint Mark's Square with charlatans

© RMN-Grand Palais (Château de Fontainebleau) / Gérard Blot

Publication date: December 2018

Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director

Historical context

Vedutism at the service of Venice

Luca Carlevarijs (1663-1730), originally from Udine in Friuli, is considered the father of Venetian Vedutism in the XVIIIe century - the art of veduta consisting in reproducing views from the city. In 1703 he published a collection of a hundred prints entitled Buildings and views of Venice, which served his colleagues as a reservoir of inspiration and a repertoire of remarkable views, thus revealing the reciprocal borrowings between vedutists in the XVIIIe century. His attachment to the district of Saint-Marc is reflected in his artistic production, as well as that for the events of Venetian life (admissions of ambassadors, regatta in honor of Frederick IV of Denmark, etc.). The inspiration drawn from the engraved work of his predecessor Israel Sylvester is quite possible.

Image Analysis

A lively public square

Placing the viewer in the clock tower, Carlevarijs chooses to give a vivid image of Saint Mark's Square. In the foreground, a multitude of small figures, the macchiette, enliven the square. Some onlookers are gathered around charlatans mounted on improvised platforms, others wear masks and sacrifice for the uses of worldly civility, still others sell their products in the shade of the basilica, whose obscure facade closes the stage on the left. It is a miniature company that comes to life and color under the precise brush of the artist. The second plan is heavily occupied by the base of the imposing bell tower and the regular southern facade of the square. The opening towards the Piazzetta and its two columns, door open on the basin of Saint-Marc and its boats, lets guess the facade of the Doge's Palace and that of the Libreria, and breaks the horizontality of the right part of the canvas, where the Procuracies deploy their regular arcades; it gives the composition a deeper perspective and recalls the city's essential link with the sea.

We recognize in this painting the style of Carlevarijs, which is distinguished by an architectural accuracy tempered by a light pink haze which blurs the precision of the backgrounds.


The agora of the city of the Doges

By choosing to paint Saint Mark's Square, two of its main buildings and its opening to the sea, Carlevarijs paid homage to the political, religious, economic, social and symbolic heart of Venice. The success of the views of Saint Mark's Square with collectors and tourists of the modern age explains the vogue they enjoyed in the artistic production of the 18th century.e century. While Carlevarijs devotes at least six well-known versions to it, Canaletto will make Saint Mark's Square the “subject of a lifetime” (B.A. Kowalszyk).

The Saint-Marc district did not, however, undergo any major transformation in the 18th century.e century, apart from the replacement of the paving of the square and the Piazzetta in the early 1720s. Otherwise, the appearance it takes on is that of its successive architects. The square is organized around Saint Mark's Basilica, built to house the relics of the Evangelist Mark, patron saint of the city. Rebuilt in XIe century and gradually decorated with Gothic additions, the domed church follows the Byzantine style. The four horses which surmount the facade represented by Carlevarijs come from the booty operated after the capture of Constantinople in 1204. True religious heart of the Venetian principality, the basilica organizes the place which is adjacent to it. The bell tower stands 98 meters since the beginning of the XVIe century and overlooks the administrative buildings called Procuracies (the one that Carlevarijs painted to the right of his canvas represents the Procuratie Nuove) because of their vocation to house the services of the procurators of the oligarchic republic of Venice. These buildings form the three south, west and north sides of the square.

In the background, the Piazzetta opens onto the Doge's Palace, a small part of the facade of which can be seen to the left of the painting by Carlevarijs. Built in the XIVe-XVe century, it is the residence of the Doges of the Serenissima and the political heart of Venetian life. Opposite, the Libreria de Saint-Marc, built in the XVIe century, houses the precious manuscripts of the Serenissima - Carlevarijs gives only a narrowed view of the perspective and the distance. The two columns of the Piazzetta opening onto the basin of Saint Mark and the mouth of the Grand Canal are surmounted by the winged lion of Saint Mark (on the left on the canvas) and a bronze representing Saint Theodore, former patron. of the city (right).

The architectural complex of Saint Mark's Square, to which the canvas of Carlevarijs pays a fine tribute, therefore represents a whole marked by Gothic, Byzantine and Renaissance influences. From the heart of the city of the Doges there emerges an appearance of balance which the painter has brought to life. Carlevarijs thus participates in the pictorial epiphany of Venice in painting at the turn of the XVIIe and XVIIIe century. It helps to fix in the European imagination an eternal image of the lagoon city.

  • Italy
  • Venice
  • monuments
  • Basilica
  • Veduta
  • Grand Canal
  • boat
  • St. Mark's horses
  • channel


Collective, Dazzling Venice. Venice, the arts and Europe in the 18th century, Paris, Meeting of National Museums, 2018.

KOWALCZYK, Bozena Anna (dir.), Canaletto-Guardi. The two masters of Venice, Jacquemart-André Museum, Institut de France, 2012.

PEDROCCO, Filippo, Views of Venice from Carpaccio to Canaletto, Paris, Citadelles and Mazenod, 2002.

Id. Painters of Venice the Serene, Paris, Citadelles and Mazenod, 2010.

SCARPA, Annalisa, Venice in the time of Canaletto, Paris, Gallimard, Special discoveries, 2012.

To cite this article

Jean HUBAC, "Saint Mark's Square in the XVIIIe century "


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