Breathtaking 18th-Century Panorama of Warsaw on Google Cultural Institute
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small, Breathtaking 18th-Century Panorama of Warsaw on Google Cultural Institute, View of Warsaw from the Terrace of the Royal Castle by Bernardo Bellotto called Canaletto from the collection of the National Museum. Photo: National, canaletto widok warszawy mnw_5435093.jpg
Just like Alfred Hitchcock, the painter Canaletto sometimes unexpectedly turns up in his own pictures. The two have another thing in common ‒ they both created immortal works. Recently a very detailed photo of Canaletto’s 1773 painting View of Warsaw from the Terrace of the Royal Castle, a panorama of the Polish capital, was uploaded to the online platform of the Google Cultural Institute.
If the pseudonym Canaletto is mentioned in Poland, one typically has Bernardo Bellotto in mind, not his uncle Giovani Antoni Canal, with whom he shared the nickname. The two were both noted painters from Venice, but only Bernardo had strong ties to Poland and to Warsaw in particular. He arrived there in 1767 at the invitation of King Stanisław August Poniatowski and resided there until his death in 1780. At the king’s request, he created many picturesque paintings of the Polish capital which are considered classics nowadays. He portrayed the city at a time when it was becoming more and more beautiful, capturing a great number of fascinating details about the era like clothing and customs. The historical value of his urban scenes, which he painted with great skill and precision, is priceless.
For his paintings, Canaletto used a camera obscura, an optical device thanks to which he could flawlessly determine the proportions of structures and perspective. A camera obscura consists of a dark space (e.g. box or room) into which light enters through a tiny hole, projecting an inverted image. This image captures the real proportions of objects in perspective and can be used by painters as a reference. Because Canaletto’s views are so accurate, they served as visual documentation for the reconstruction of buildings after WWII.
Since 15th October, one of Canaletto’s paintings, his 1773 View of Warsaw from the Terrace of the Royal Castle, can be seen on Google Cultural Institute, an online platform making great works of art available to internet audiences. A photo of a resolution of over 1 gigapixel was uploaded to the platform, thanks to which even the finest details of the work can be seen online free of charge. This really is good news as there are numerous curious details to behold in the painting in question. Obviously there’s the architecture. On the right hand side of this panorama, one can see part of the Warsaw Royal Castle’s eastern elevation. In the mid-lower part of the canvas, there’s the castle’s terrace. A section of the baroque Copper-Roof Palace protrudes from behind it. Further on, a breath-taking panorama of the city unfolds that includes dozens of buildings such as Kazimierz Palace and the Carmelite Church.
The painting also shows scenes that shed some light on the customs of the Warsaw royal court: on the terrace, a changing of the royal guard and a horseback riding lesson are taking place. Looking closely at the painting, one can also discern the features of many of the persons depicted in this masterfully executed artwork. Interestingly, the identities of some of them are known. For instance, in a first-floor window in the very right-hand side, the king’s sister-in-law Teresa Poniatowska can be seen next to a man (probably the king) along with her two children, Józef and Maria Teresa. Jean Le Doux, a man of African descent, can be seen in the left part of the household. Alberto Rizzi, an unquestioned authority on Canaletto, has a theory that the painter himself can be found in the painting: the man in a brown frock standing next to the above-mentioned party might be a depiction of the artist. This is all the more likely since Canaletto often painted himself in his Warsaw scenes.
Canaletto’s View of Warsaw from the Terrace of the Royal Castle continues to be an important historical document. It was used in this capacity during a recent renovation of the titular building’s terraces. The red, white and green colour scheme of the new terrace tree pots was chosen because their counterparts in Canaletto’s piece have the very same colours. Apart from having high historical value, the painting in question is also a stunning work of art, masterfully painted and harmoniously composed. It is part of the collection of the National Museum in Warsaw, but will now be admired all over the world thanks to Google Cultural Institute.
To see the painting in all its digital glory, head to View of Warsaw from the Terrace of the Royal Castle on Google Cultural Institute.
google cultural institute
royal castle in warsaw
Written by Marek Kępa, Oct 2015.