Venice may be only city in which centuries-old paintings remain hyper-real today


Canaletto, 1697 – 1768
Venice: Campo S. Vidal and Santa Maria della Carità (‘The Stonemason’s Yard’)
about 1725
Oil on canvas, 123.8 x 162.9 cm
Sir George Beaumont Gift, 1823; passed to the National Gallery, 1828

The truest line ever written about Venice may be from Peter Ackroyd’s biography of the city. “A Venetian of the 16th century, if not earlier, would have no trouble finding his or her way through the streets of the modern city,” Ackroyd writes in ‘Venice: Pure City’. “That is true of few other cities on earth.”

Compare the cityscapes of Venice from the paintings of 400 years ago.

Canaletto painted the eponymous ‘Stone Cutter’s Yard’ in the 1720s.

Here’s the same view, from April 11,2017, from the same place Canaletto was looking across the canal.

Note the spire of the church in the Campo San Vidal. Today, the trees have grown up in front of the church. The bridge (the Academia bridge) was not there in Canaletto’s day. The stone cutter’s yard has gone and is replaced by shops (where the lights are on the right).

But as Ackroyd writes, from Canaletto’s painting, “it is possible to identify still existing houses, a small bridge and a little canal…the territory has remained stable for almost 300 years.”

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life”
– Jack Kerouac