The Joy of Museums

Finding Beauty & Meaning in Museums

“Piazza San Marco with the Basilica, Venice” by Canaletto

Piazza San Marco with the Basilica, by Canaletto, 1730. Fogg Art Museum, Cambridge

“Piazza San Marco with the Basilica, Venice” by Canaletto

“Piazza San Marco with the Basilica, Venice” by Canaletto depicts Venice’s  principal public square of San Marco and Saint Mark’s Basilica, with its Byzantine architecture. The bell tower dominates the scene and represents a timeless view of Venice while also capturing the details of eighteenth-century life.

Piazza San Marco often known as St Mark’s Square is the social, religious and political centre of Venice. The Square is dominated at its eastern end by the great church of St Mark and the Campanile of St Mark’s church. The foreground portrays the decorative marble pattern of stone pavements that had recently been laid just before this painting was made. The marble pattern forms a complex geometrical pavement design of which little is known about the reasoning for the particulars of the design. Some have speculated that the pattern was used to regulate market stalls or to recall their former presence in the square. Others believe the model was drawn from oriental rugs, a favourite luxury item in this trading centre.

This Canaletto is a typical example of the vedute paintings popular with Grand Tour travellers of the 1700’s as a visual record of their travels. Canaletto was one of the more famous painters of city views or vedute, especially of Venice. During 1746 to 1756 he worked in England where he created many paintings of the sights of London. He was highly successful in England and became famous thanks to the British merchant and connoisseur Joseph Smith who sold his extensive collection of Canaletto’s paintings to King George III in 1762. Canaletto’s paintings became highly prized as during the 18th century European monarchs vied for his grandest pictures.

Many of Canaletto’s paintings can be found in museums across the world, depict highly detailed, usually large-scale paintings of Venetian other famous cityscapes or vistas:



Piazza San Marco with the Basilica, Venice

  • Title:                        Piazza San Marco with the Basilica, Venice
  • Artist:                       Canaletto
  • Year:                        1734
  • Medium:                  Oil on canvas
  • Dimensions            Height: 76 cm (29.9 in). Width: 118.8 cm (46.8 in).
  • Museum:                Fogg Art Museum, Harvard Art Museums



“There is something so different in Venice from any other place in the world, that you leave at once all accustomed habits and everyday sights to enter an enchanted garden.” Mary Shelley



Photo Credits: 1) Canaletto [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons