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Canaletto (Venice 1697-Venice 1768)

Ruins of the Forum looking towards the Capitol Signed and dated 1742

Oil on canvas | 190.0 x 106.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external) | RCIN 400714

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  • This painting is one of a unique group of five large upright views of Rome, depicting the major sights of the ancient city (RCIN 401002, RCIN 400700, RCIN 400713, RCIN 400524, RCIN 400714). Unusually for Canaletto, all the works are signed and dated prominently in the foreground. It is thought that the paintings formed a special commission for Canaletto's great friend and patron Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice, who sold his outstanding group of paintings, prints and drawings to George III. Their tall narrow format suggests that the paintings were originally designed for a specific location, probably decorating a room within Smith's palace on the Grand Canal, however the cycle does not fall into an obvious arrangement. Acquired by George III in 1762, the paintings were hung in English frames in the Entrance Hall of Buckingham House, alongside the Venetian views. 

    The painting is based on Canaletto's own youthful drawing in the British Museum, converted from a horizontal to a vertical format. The low viewpoint allows the three columns of the Temple of Castor and Pollux to fill the narrow vertical format of the canvas, while the height of the Capitoline Hill is exaggerated. Canaletto compressed the space between the two temples and aligned them neatly; other buildings have been excluded which might distract from the juxtaposition of the two temples in front of the Palazzo Senatorio. The effect is impressive, with the tall columns of Castor and Pollux inspiring awe in the admiring visitors.

    Not all details in the drawing are included here: for example, the campanile of the Palazzo Senatorio has three rather than two arches and the tympanum of the Temple of Saturn is different. The chimneys have been described as more Venetian than Roman, suggesting that Canaletto was working in Venice.

    Canaletto made several paintings of this view. In every case the scene is bathed in morning light, but this version, the only one with a striking shadow cast across the columns of the Temple of Saturn, has the greatest sense of drama. Here the fashionably dressed visitors, the rear wheel of one of their coaches cut off by the right edge, mingle with the inhabitants of Rome, such as the knife-grinder with his portable whetstone and water-barrel in the middle distance. In contrast to the visitors measuring and marvelling at the ruins, the local inhabitants seem to go about their daily lives unaware of the greatness of Rome's past. 

    Signed and dated ANT.CANAL FECIT / ANNO MCCXLII (D omitted from Roman numerals of the date).
    Adapted from Canaletto & the Art of Venice, London, 2017.

    Acquired in 1762 by George III from Joseph Smith, British Consul in Venice (Italian List no 58); recorded in the Hall at Buckingham Palace in 1790

  • Medium and techniques

    Oil on canvas


    190.0 x 106.2 cm (support, canvas/panel/stretcher external)

    221.0 x 130.7 x 15.1 cm (frame, external)

  • Alternative title(s)

    Rome: Ruins of the Forum looking towards the Capitol