Caravaggio and the Painters of the North
From 21 June to 18 September 2016
This painting, bought at Christie's, New York, on 29 January 1999, lot 55, can be added to the large series of works of similar characteristics which reproduce Venetian buildings in detail, and whose author is still unknown within the varied context of Venetian vedutismo, although he has been identified with reference to the important legacy of Sidney and Jenny Brown, made up of the thirteen views or vedute kept at the Swiss Langmatt Foundation in Baden.
These paintings, which can be stylistically linked to the Canalettesque works by Francesco Tironi and also, according to some critics, to those of Michele Marieschi and his pupil Francesco Albotto, are easily recognised by the marked distortion of their perspective. This device creates a wide angle effect, in which the foreground-for example the bed of the Grand Canal-is indefinitely broadened, while the background becomes smaller and narrower. Only in this aspect can the author be considered to follow the steps of Marieschi and Albotto, obtaining an arbitrary if undoubtedly suggestive image, which would hardly be found, for instance, in Canaletto.
Clearly, in this work the paint is applied with greater care than in the rough and dappled surfaces typical of this anonymous artist, very similar to those of Albotto. On the other hand, it resembles other paintings of the eponymous group in its calligraphic description of the physical aspect of the buildings, conveying in detail their decadence and even reproducing the deterioration of the plastered façades. The palette used by the artist is halfway between the models of Marieschi and Albotto, with a respectful use (if not anticipation) of the acid and cold tones of the latter, of the characteristic blue sky with creamy and white clouds or, as in this picture, with heavier clouds, of the greenish surfaces of the lagoon or of the Grand Canal, crossed by parallel white lines which suggest both light and movement of the water, or by deeper greyish lines which represent the reflection of the mooring poles or of the buildings themselves (see the Loggia which opens on the left bank of the canal).
Only through external references has it been possible to date the Langmatt series as painted at the beginning of the 1740s, that is, in the years just before and after Marieschi's death, when, Canaletto no longer alive and Guardi not yet active in this field, not even Albotto paid particular attention to vedutismo. Succi has suggested, with great reservation and with the aim of identifying the anonymous painter, the name of Apollonio Domenichini, registered in the Fraglia (Guild) of Venetian painters in 1757. For twenty years, a large number of his vedute were sent through the merchant Giuseppe Maria Sasso, his middleman, to the English collector John Strange, who had been resident in the Serenissima in 1774. Unfortunately, no work bearing the signature of this artist remains. But there is no doubt that the large series of the Langmatt vedute presupposes the direct commission of a collector wishing to own paintings offering many different views of the Venetian architecture. The close relationship between patron and artist may explain why the painter did not sign the works. However, it is also possible that a modest artist, with no special fame, as was the Master of the Langmatt vedute, may have thought it convenient, from a commercial point of view, to maintain anonymity in works which a non expert public could have considered as painted by more famous and better paid artists. We should also add that this work, undoubtedly one of the best by the Langmatt Master, is characterised by a more lively colour than usual, by a warmth of the chiaroscuro on the buildings, and by the detail of the countless figures which appear on the boats crossing the Grand Canal, walking along the Fondamenta (quay) in front of the Fabbriche Vecchie or seen below the arches of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi.