Venice, the ultimate tourist destination, was already popular as far back as the 16th and 17th century: it was one of the obligatory stops on the so-called Grand Tour, when wealthy young men – principally English – travelled for a few years in Europe to complete their education. The Grand Tour was, in a manner of speaking, a posher and lengthier forerunner of the modern gap year. Or – if we’re less charitable – of the package holiday. In any case, the Grand Tourists invariably wound up in Italy; and we owe them a number of varyingly entertaining travel accounts as well as far too many paintings of young Englishmen posing in togas in front of well-known Italian landmarks.
Looked to the wingéd’s Lion’s marble piles,
Where Venice sate in state, throned on her hundred isles!
Lord Byron: Venice
Of course the Venetians, (in)famous for centuries all over Europe on account of their single-minded dedication to business (to the exclusion of every other consideration, such as Papal bans on trading with the Turks, for example), did not fail to capitalise on the tourists. Photography not having been yet invented in those times, painters of vedute (Italian for ‘views’), among them a certain Giovanni Antonio Canal, better known as Canaletto, made an excellent living out of the Grand Tourists by painting highly accurate depictions of Venice for them to take home. Nothing changed in this respect of course; Venetians still make an excellent living out of tourists (grand or otherwise).
The Doge’s Palace Then: A View by Canaletto
This view of the Column of St Mark and the Doge’s Palace with the Riva degli Schiavone (the Quay of the Slavones) was painted by Canaletto in the late 1730s and it now hangs in the National Gallery in London in the company of several other views of Venice. At the time of painting the incumbent of the Doge’s Palance was a certain Alvise Pisani, a distant descendant of Niccolo Pisani, the admiral famous for his victories against the rival Republic of Genoa in the 14th century. Pisani, a former career diplomat, was elected Doge in 1735; his short and unremarkable rule ended 6 years later.
And the Doge’s Palace Now: In Venice Time Stands Still?
Although I’m fond of Canaletto, I stop short of memorising the layout of his various pictures so it’s pure coincidence that when I went to Venice in the spring, I took the photo from the same place and angle from which Canaletto painted his view. Great minds think alike? I’d love to claim that but I suspect that every tourist who passed through Venice since the invention of photography captured exactly the same shot – whether or not he’d ever heard of Canaletto!
You might also like: ⇒ Venice by Lord Byron ⇒ A picture of a man who shared the mentality of today's selfie-stick users: Robert Spencer, 2nd Earl of Sunderland, posing in a classical dress in Rome ⇒ Canaletto in the National Gallery, London ⇒ Vivaldi's Concerto per due mandolini accompanied by a show of Canaletto's paintings on YouTube ⇒ A Room with a View by E.M. Forster on Project Gutenberg: a version of the Grand Tour in the beginning of the 20th century for young English ladies ⇒ The Past Meets Present series on the blog Delights of the Algarve