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Veronese, Canaletto, Bellotto and the Sea Level in Venice

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by the editorial staff

When interrogated by scholars rooted in fields other than art history, works of art yield very interesting answers, sometimes more interesting than those that “pure” art historians manage to obtain. Treated not as objects of exception, bearers of exclusive meanings, but as sources of information neither more nor less important than many others, they show themselves (and show their authors) from unprecedented angles. Those who think so will appreciate the seminar entitled Reconstructing Level Changes and High Water in Venice Evidenced by Written Sources, Visual Arts and Urban Archaeology, given on February 7 by physicist Dario Camuffo, Research Director at CNR, Institute of Atmospheric and Climate Sciences, Padua. The link to connect to:

A distinguished climatologist and advisor to major European institutions for the environment and cultural heritage, Camuffo gives an account of the evidence offered by the paintings of those – first and foremost Canaletto – who painted glimpses of Venice, using the most reliable surveying instrument before the appearance of photography: the camera obscura. Information about sea level and tides, offered by the sacred texts of Venetian painting, is surprisingly accurate, and fully confirms the pessimistic predictions that have been made for some time now, in the wake of global climate change.

Camuffo also mentions cases in which Canaletto and Bellotto, the two 18th-century Venetian painters most attentive to objective data, produced multiple versions of the same view. Camuffo’s thesis is that, in the case of the same subject painted several times, one should not speak of originals and copies but, instead, of multiple originals, the result of repeated detections. The examples cited are few, but the resulting indications are, for those who place themselves in the perspective of the 18th-century artist and his professional ethics, very convincing. Among the many other tidbits with which Camuffo supplements his climatological observations, those concerning the evolution of the venetian gondola over the centuries are also very interesting. The seminar lasts sixty minutes.

Homepage; Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal called), View of the Santa Chiara Canal in Venice (detail), c. 1730, oil on canvas, 92 x 79 cm, Paris, Musée Cognacq-Jay (Sailko/Wikimedia).
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