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Cities of Dreams

The urban/e vision of Canaletto and his rivals.

Jun 13, 2011, Vol. 16, No. 37 • By JAMES GARDNER
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In respect of these excellences, Canaletto is without equal. But he had two rivals, each excellent in his own way, who had certain virtues to which Canaletto could not lay claim. His nephew, Bernardo Bellotto, often copied him and came very close indeed. But at his best, especially when he was depicting the kingdoms and duchies of Central Europe, Bellotto was able to convey both the form and texture of reality with such force that his proto-realism becomes a powerful, defiant act of imagination.

And then there is Francesco Guardi, who began painting his Venetian scenes about a generation after Canaletto. It is fashionable to see Guardi as an impressionist avant la lettre: That is not strictly accurate, but it will do in describing the feathery lightness of his touch. Sometimes, it is true, his subjects slip away from him. But at his best, as in such paintings as The Molo and the Riva degli Schiavoni from the Bacino di San Marco, he can marshal a command of composition and a choiceness of detail that rival Canaletto’s.

James Gardner recently translated Vida’s Christiad (I Tatti Renaissance Library).

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