Research Forum Event Series

Venetian waterscapes. Veduta drawings and the 18th-century culture of spectacle

Speaker: Dr Camilla Pietrabissa

Etching in brown ink showing a very busy dock with a sailing ship prominently drawn in the foreground i Canaletto, The bacino from the punta di Sant'Antonio, c. 1740, pen and ink with grey wash, Royal Collection Trust

The peculiar condition of Venice as a city built on water in the middle of a lagoon, and linked to its mainland by a network of rivers and canals, has invited the interpretation of the series of vedute as images that evoke the experience of 51ݶ. In his production of prints and drawings, Canaletto took water to be a formal principle guiding his spatial construction of the lagoon. An important distinction between the drawings of views of the Grand Canal and those of the lagoon, its islands and coastline, shows the different ways in which Canaletto constructed spatial meaning and composed his sequences to create virtual 51ݶ. While the first group comprises the drawings that verge toward the topographic view, the second conveys the creative freedom afforded by travels in the countryside.

By engaging with the unresolved questions concerning the role played by drawing in the development of the Venetian veduta, this lecture highlights the tight link between Canaletto51ݶ graphic work and the culture of spectacle which characterized 18th-century civic life. The exchange between the world of theatre, street spectacle and collecting was instrumental in creating the graphic language Canaletto used to map urban space. The logic of seriality which underpin his works on paper and his sustained attention to the depiction of water confirm that the veduta, faithful to its origins as a hybrid genre, integrated the variety of visual experiences available to 18th-century visitors.

Camilla Pietrabissa is postdoctoral fellow in the History of Art at Ծà di Venezia (IUAV). She is the author of Disegni di natura urbana: l’immagine dei dintorni di Parigi nel primo Settecento (2021), issued from her fellowship at Fondazione 1563 per l’Arte e la Cultura in Turin. She received her PhD from the Courtauld in 2019, which she is turning into a book currently titled Rococo landscapes. Suburban nature and artists’ mobility in eighteenth-century Paris. Her interests include the visual culture of prints and drawings in the long eighteenth century, and the representation of landscape in early modern Europe, particularly in relation to urban transformation and the politics of nature. Her essays were published in Dix-ܾپè è, Studiolo, and The Burlington Magazine. Currently she is organising an international conference on ‘Landscape drawing in the making: materiality – practice – experience, 1500–1800’ due to take place in March 2024 at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini in Venice.

Organised by Dr Ketty Gottardo (The Courtauld) and kindly supported by the International Music and Art Foundation (IMAF).

This event has passed.

14 Nov 2023

17:30 - 19:00

Free, booking essential

Vernon Square Campus, Lecture Theatre 2

This is an in person event at our Vernon Square campus. Booking will close 30 minutes before the event begins.


Black and white etching showing a small child looking into a box, while a woman holds him up
Gaetano Zompini, Mondo novo, from Le arti che vanno per via, c. 1746-54, etching