Flemish painting and De Jonckheere Gallery's old master paintings
The Grand Canal of Venice, the main waterway that runs through the city of the Doges, was one of the favourite subjects of the 18th century vedute painters....read more
The Grand Canal of Venice, the main waterway that runs through the city of the Doges, was one of the favourite subjects of the 18th century vedute painters. Meandering through the city in the form of a reversed letter "S", its banks lined by numerous palaces and magnificent buildings, it has invited boundless admiration. Giuseppe Bernardino Bison was no exception to this rule and in this canvas, he depicts a long stretch of the Grand Canal, showing the Palazzo Grimani di San Luca which dominates the left-hand side of the composition.
This palace was built in the mid-16th century for Gerolamo Grimani by Michele Sanmicheli, and after his death, construction was continued by Gian Giacomo de' Grigi. Built according to a central plan, its classicist facade incorporates the typical motif of the triumphal arch with Corinthian columns inspired by Roman architecture. In this View of Venice, it is a commanding presence that stands out from the other buildings. Bison was surely inspired for this painting by an engraving by Visentini based on a composition by Canaletto. Now lost, but at one time listed in the inventory of the collection of the Count of Normanton, the initial composition by Canaletto was a source of inspiration for numerous vedutists. In the engraving by Visentini as in the present painting by Bison, one can easily identify the various palaces surrounding the Palazzo Grimani. On the right-hand bank, across from it, we see the Businello palace, and then the Coccina-Tiepolo palace. Finally, in the distance, stands the Foscari palace. Nevertheless, the creative invention of Visentini is already evident in the engraving which was probably executed in 1745 and 1751. Bison also clearly diverges from Canaletto’s design by creating his own arrangement of gondolas with figures on board.
However, the scene is a far cry from the animation and frenzied activity of the elegant figures that recur in the work of the earlier masters of the genre. A few gondolas in the foreground are still adorned with signs of the Carnival of Venice, and the painter brings a more dramatic expression to the waning of the city’s heyday. Upon closer inspection, this veduta bears the distinct traces of the century in which it was made. Beyond the details of the costumes, such as the crinolines and redingotes which immediately situate the scene in the 1830s, one is struck by the sparseness of the groups of figures that Bison has chosen to integrate into this magnificent architectural view. Was Bison already under the sway of the myth of the Serenissima or rather, Venice, as languid and dying? The notion of the Republic of the Doges as the Serenissima, is displaced here by the inscription I.R. Poste (Imperial and Royal Postal Service) which is legible above the monumental porch of the Grimani Palace, indicating the Austrian occupation: and this detail no doubt gives full meaning to the atmosphere of restrained dignity and slightly forced calm emanating from the figures. It is as if Bison, beyond capturing the outward tranquil clarity of this veduta, wanted to invest it with a subtle allusion to political affairs.
Without a doubt, the extreme precision of the architectural rendering combined with the atmospheric sensitivity conveyed by this composition makes it a work worthy of Bison’s illustrious predecessors such as Canaletto, Bellotto or Guardi.
Palmanova 1762 - Milan 1844
Born in Palmanova in Friuli in 1762, Giuseppe Bernardino Bison occupies a special place among the painters who prolonged the vedutist tradition at the turn of the 18th...
Palmanova 1762 - Milan 1844
Born in Palmanova in Friuli in 1762, Giuseppe Bernardino Bison occupies a special place among the painters who prolonged the vedutist tradition at the turn of the 18th century. An eclectic and versatile artist, he also left behind an important oeuvre as a painter and decorator, following in the prestigious footsteps of Tiepolo, Guardi, Ricci, Zaïs and Diziani: numerous palaces and villas in Ferrara, Padua, Treviso, Udine, Trieste and the surrounding areas bear witness to his ability as a fresco artist. Essentially dedicating himself to topographical veduta in his easel paintings, he nevertheless dealt with a wide variety of subjects, including fantasy. Other than these two aspects of his art, he produced an impressive number of graphic works.
In 1831, he settled in Milan and from 1834 to 1838, he made a series of journeys which took him successively to Florence, Rome, Naples and Paestum, thus broadening his vedutist repertoire.
As regards his protean body of work, we should emphasise – besides the variety of subjects – the extreme quality of his pictorial production, making him one of the most worthy epigones of the Venetian vedutist tradition in the 18th century.