The Rialto Bridge in the XVIIIe century

The Rialto Bridge in the XVIII<sup>e</sup> century

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Title: The Rialto Bridge

Author : CANALETTO Antonio (1697 - 1768)

Creation date : 1720 -

Date shown: 1720

Dimensions: Height 119 cm - Width 154 cm

Storage location: Louvre Museum (Paris) website

Contact copyright: RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Franck Raux

Picture reference: 08-500278 / RF1961-32

© RMN-Grand Palais (Louvre museum) / Franck Raux

Publication date: December 2018

Academy Inspector Deputy Academic Director

Historical context

The master of vedutism

Canaletto has painted the Rialto Bridge on numerous occasions, either seen from the south, or seen from the north, as in this painting. As early as the mid-1720s, a preparatory drawing for the probable first of its variations on the Rialto Bridge clarified the importance of the effects of sunlight mirrored in the water of the Grand Canal (drawing kept at the Ashmolean Museum of Oxford). The canvas in the Louvre was produced in the 1720s, at the start of Canaletto's career, and appears in the collection of prints published by Smith in 1735. It is, however, less marked by shadows than the version kept in Turin, ordered by the merchant Stefano Conti in 1726.

On this date, Zuanne Antonio Canal (1697-1768), known as Canaletto, began to establish himself in the Venetian art market as a specialist in views of the city, after having devoted himself to the creation of imaginary landscapes, the whims. He then became the most illustrious representative of Venetian Vedutism in the 18th century.e century, producing popular series of emblematic places in Venice and playing with light. He carries them out in his workshop, after taking precise readings on the spot, sometimes mentioning the colors or tones.

Image Analysis

The Rialto Bridge or an example of the reality effect

Under a clear sky, the Rialto Bridge proudly raises its arch to span the Grand Canal. The work of Antonio Da Ponte inaugurated in 1591, this first stone bridge in the city reserves its twelve arcades for shops involved in banking and financial activities. Canaletto highlights the unique arch which allows navigation on the Grand Canal thanks to a subtle play on solar light.

The bridge shares the central part of the canvas with the Palace of the Camerlingas, built in 1525. The perspective chosen by Canaletto only allows us to represent two of the five facades of white marble that house the palace of the financial magistrates, and particularly of the camerlingists, these officials empowered to collect the sovereign rights due to the Serene Republic in the various Venetian possessions. To the right of the composition, the austere facade of the old factories casts its shadow over part of the quays. A few passers-by stand out in front of the arcades where goods are stored. To the left of the Grand Canal, the facade of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, a Renaissance-style residence and offices of Germanic merchants, behind which we can see the top of the campanile of the Church of San Bartolomeo, is bathed in sunshine that highlights the ochres.

If silhouettes are active on the gondolas and other flat-bottomed boats that ply the Grand Canal, if strollers pace the quays of the old factories, time seems suspended under a light that emphasizes the precision of the details and amplifies the effect of reality.


Vedutism and the commercial grandeur of Venice

Vedutism, or this art of representing views of the lagoon city, largely contributed to the success of the Venetian myth in the 18th century.e century. Canaletto contributes brilliantly. Under the leadership of Smith, the collection of engravings representing the Grand Canal published in 1735 consecrates Canaletto as master of perspective and the effect of reality, at the same time as he ensures the distribution of his works as a repertoire in which d other vedutists will draw (Bellotto, Guardi…). His views of the Rialto Bridge inspired his contemporaries. Francesco Guardi in turn made, shortly after Canaletto's death, his own representation of the Rialto Bridge seen from the North (kept at the Alte Pinakothek in Munich) - he uses a less luminous palette and shows a Grand Canal where the animation looks taller under a busy sky.

Where the Grand Canal passes under the Rialto Bridge, itself the Mecca of Venetian finance, it concentrates on its banks important commercial and financial institutions of Venice: to the left of the canvas, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi , where Germanic merchants had their warehouses and offices; in the center, the palace of the Camerlingues, which since the Renaissance housed the financial services of the Serenissima; on the right, the old factories, or Fabbriche Vecchie, rebuilt in the 16th centurye century with their quays usually teeming with activity. Canaletto thus gives to see the economic heart of Venice, which still benefits in the XVIIIe century of significant commercial prestige, although declining due to the economic shift in the European world from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

Through his painting, Canaletto took part in the great movement to fix the Venetian imagination in the 18th century.e century. Representing the Rialto Bridge in the autumn of Venetian splendor underlines the real and dreamed power of the Serenissima, that of mastery over land and sea.

  • Italy
  • Venice
  • Grand Canal
  • bridge
  • boat
  • monuments
  • bank
  • trade
  • Veduta
  • 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, “The Rialto Bridge in the XVIIIe century "

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