Monday, May 07, 2007

View of Warsaw from Praga

Bernardo Bellotto left Italy for Dresden in 1747. His uncle Canaletto, whose pupil he had been and whose name he often used, had departed a year earlier, for England. After twenty years painting landscapes in German cities, Bellotto set off for Russia but never arrived, stopping in Warsaw where he worked for King Stanislas Poniatowski and remaining there until his death in 1780. His views of the city can be seen in the recently restored Bellotto room of the Royal Palace, where I happened to be this time yesterday. Like everyone else, I was struck by the precision of detail in these paintings, which was very useful in the reconstruction of Warsaw’s old town after the Second World War. The clarity in which distant houses and figures are delineated does not seem to diminish the overall impression of a harmoniously composed view. As you stand there, your eyes can zoom in and out as they would in looking at the actual city. Works like the View of Warsaw form Praga below are an eloquent argument for the art of topographical landscape painting, famously disparaged by Fuseli as merely the ‘tame delineation of a given spot’.

Bernardo Bellotto, View of Warsaw from Praga, 1770

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