Research Paper draft


St. Mark and the Basilica: A look at the myth of Venice through the medium of mosaic at San Marco

The decoration of the Basilica of San Marco is a celebration of the self-made and appropriated myths of Venice. For example the mosaic programs of the exterior and interior portray narratives of St. Mark’s miracles and Venice’s success in obtaining a relic by stealing St. Mark’s body and thus legitimizing themselves as an important city in a medieval world. The mosaics of St. Mark also demonstrate an amalgamation of decorative techniques, styles and iconography adopted from areas of major influence on Venice such as Rome, Ravenna and Constantinople. The amount of influence from these areas can be determined by looking at the design and completion of the medieval era mosaics at San Marco.[i]

The popular myth depicted in mosaics at San Marco is that Venetian merchants found and removed the body of St. Mark from his tomb in Alexandria. An Alexandrian monk Stauracius and a priest called Theodorus helped the two Venetian merchants, Tribunus and Rusticus. They then took Mark’s body hiding it on their ship by placing pork on top of the container to stop Muslim Guards in Alexandria from preventing the merchants from taking the remains. During the journey back to Venice the merchants experience a miracle as St. Mark saved their ship from wrecking.[ii] Mark’s remains were then brought to Venice and San Marco was rebuilt and decorated to serve as an architectural reliquary for the saint. This myth cycle is portrayed not completely intact in both the Chapel San di Pietro and the western Façade. In 1063 during the rebuilding the myth is that St. Mark’s body was lost but recovered when he appeared and pointed out where he could be found in 1094 this moment is memorialized in mosaic in the South Transept dating to the 13th-century.

The choice of St. Mark as a patron saint of Venice and the creation of the myths surrounding him and the city developed due to ecclesiastic politics and the stresses these politics placed on a more independent and dominate Venetian state. Mark was first associated with Venice and the surrounding area in the 6th and 8th-centuries.[iii] At the time the Church at Aquileia was in competition with the church at Grado for ecclesiastic supremacy in the area. A rivalry existed between these two cities as well as among them and other cities such as Milan and Ravenna, all wanted to trace their heritage to apostolic times.[iv] Early on Aquileia associated itself with St. Mark through the Bishop Hermagoras, the first Bishop in the area. This was a strong connection to the papal seat in Rome since Mark was originally a follower of Peter that is alleged to have left Rome to establish a church at Aquileia then returned to Rome before going to Alexandria. Mark’s activity is important because Rome insisted on Petrine Authorization for a church or city to gain patriarchal authority.[v] Any affiliation to St. Mark would have provided a medieval city in the with a higher status. Mark was connected to Rome beyond his association with Peter because he supposedly spent time their writing his Gospel for the Italians.[vi] Paul the Deacon first wrote about Mark’s apostolic missions in Liber de Episcopis Mettensibus in 783 and names Hermagoras as Mark’s substitute at Aquileia.[vii]

Venetian merchants removed St. Mark’s remains from Alexandria not by chance, but as an attempt to gain freedom from ecclesiastical interference from Aquileia particularly as they were gaining their autonomy from the Byzantines and extending their authority over islands and the coast in the Northern Adriatic including Grado.[viii] Initially Venice had associated itself with St. Theodore who served as a warrior in the east.[ix] With the greater separation from the Byzantine east Venice may have thought it in their best interest to acquire an affiliation with an Italian saint and linking themselves to the west. In doing so they were able to go against the authority of Aquileia and begin to generate a new identity separate from both the east and the west.[x] Aquileia responded by appropriating the relics of Hermagoras from Grado to combat Venice having the relics of one of the evangelists. They placed the relics of the first Bishop of the region in the new Cathedral at Aquileia in 1063.[xi] Both Aquileia and Venice went on to use the cathedral and basilica respectively through decoration to validate their ownership of the relics they had gained through dubious means.

There have been three different phases of building at San Marco, the second version was originally built in 830 but was destroyed in 976 by a fire and eventually rebuilt in 1063. The interior decoration including the mosaics was likely finished by 1094.[xii] The façade decoration was finished last which shows a decision by the administration of San Marco to reiterate their connection to St. Mark by duplicating a program relating to the saint’s remains coming to Venice. Throughout its history San Marco has gone through many restorations. In the 16th and 17th-centuries changes were made to the mosaics that conflict with the original medieval architecture. The new Renaissance mosaic aesthetic was out of scale and clashed with the architectural lines of the building.[xiii]

After Venice acquired St. Mark’s remains they changed the focus of the design of the building from that of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem to be rebuilt in imitation of the Apostoleion in Constantinople where the last Roman Emperor Constantine’s dynasty was interred beside the bodies of the Apostles.[xiv] The decoration of San Marco was used by the Venetians to make a visible statement about the authenticity of their appropriation of Saint Mark’s body.[xv]  In the 11th and 12th-centuries this took the form of the miracles of St. Mark and the translation of the body in the Chapels of San di Pietro and San Clemente.

San Marco Basilica is decorated in more than 6,000 square meters of mosaics[xvi] and only 1/3 of the mosaics can be considered original due to the various restorations that were meant to follow the ideas laid out in the 11th and 12-century mosaics.[xvii] On the western façade facing the Piazza only one portal remains original from the 13th-century and depicts the façade with many of the attributes it would have contained in the narrative displayed on the mosaic of St. Mark being carried into the Basilica. The style of the facade of San Marco and its decoration in the 1260s was decorated in a way that brings to mind an ancient Roman hippodrome because of the marble paneling and the four bronze horses.[xviii] In this instance Venice adopted the Roman hippodrome as more than a racing track but a meeting place or as Fabio Barry refers to it as a “pressure valve” for different factions of the city where they were under the scrutiny of the government; in ancient Rome they would have been under the watch of the Emperor.[xix] The facade of San Marco was used as a monumental display for the four horses and as a backdrop for the piazza, which was seen in some ways to resemble a Roman forum.[xx] The facade would have been influential in displaying Venice’s power in a public space that saw traffic from all over Western Europe and the east and was important as a statement for Venice serving as the new Rome. This was displayed through spolia that decorated the facade of San Marco. Spolia on the facade was made up of stolen, purchased and gifted items.[xxi] However, with the amount of spolia they were always careful to avoid any sacrilege issues, issues that also come along with the appropriation of the holy relics of others.[xxii]

An integral part to the mosaics decorating the interior and exterior of San Marco is where the material came from and who the mosaicists were particularly when considering the 12th and the 13th-century mosaics. It is not clear who was labeled the mosaicist when considering these early mosaics, the creator of the actual design or the craftsmen who implemented the design or whether the same person completed both. The questions brought up by studying the materials and artists are barely touched upon by Demus and many art historians have taken his opinions on the matter as fact. However further research into glass making in Venice and identifying stylistic influence and technique is allowing more credit to be given to Venetian craftsmen for the earliest mosaics in San Marco. The pervading theory is that Venice employed both mosaicists and glass material from Byzantium and Byzantines trained Venetian craftsmen who worked on the mosaics.[xxiii] Demus credits the Byzantines as being the best in the art of mosaics at the turn of the century and gives Venice the title of best provincial style mosaics.[xxiv]

There is evidence of importation of pre-made glass tesserae in the city before glass was being manufactured in Venice, which was either brought from Constantinople, salvaged from older mosaics or brought from mosaic workshops in both Levant and Tyre.[xxv] Glass may have also been included in the spolia that was used in the decoration for San Marco that incorporated marble, sculptures, pillars, icons and relics.[xxvi] Excavations at nearby Torcello provide evidence for glass making industry in the area during late antiquity and the medieval period; therefore it is not too unlikely that these skills continued on in the local area and contributed to the glass used in the San Marco mosaics during the 11th, 12th and even the 13th-centuries.[xxvii] A connection exists between glass being made on the Italian peninsula and Venice because the chemical makeup of the tesserae found at Torcello matched that of glass made and found in Italy and may have again been used in San Marco.[xxviii] The Byzantines themselves may have even procured glass through trade in addition to or instead of manufacturing it.[xxix] Venetians could have used their own wide spread commercial contacts and gone directly to the source of raw glass ridding themselves of a dependence on Byzantine glass if this is the case.[xxx] The plausibility of this is supplemented by the fact that Venice in the 12th and 13th-centuries was working towards greater autonomy from Constantinople, when the mosaics depicting St. Mark on the facade and Zen Chapel were being made.

Some art historians, Demus included, do not believe that a Venetian mosaic style is discernable until the 14th-century.[xxxi] However Demus does categorize the 12th-century as the most important time period particularly for the interior mosaics of San Marco.[xxxii] He also attributes many of the stylistic and material changes seen in the mosaics from this period as a result of the changing relationship between Venice and Byzantium.[xxxiii] The iconography is attributed to the Byzantine style.[xxxiv] Two Byzantine styles have been identified as present in the mosaics featured in San Marco and can be seen through the mosaics associated with St. Mark.[xxxv] The mosaics in the sanctuary are both lively and picturesque dating from the 12th-century and the mosaics in the vault leading into the Zen Chapel portraying the second series of scenes from the life of St. Mark date to the 13th-century and the façade are similar in style.[xxxvi]

St. Mark is depicted in the Chapel San di Pietro, the Chapel San Clemente, the vault before the Zen Chapel, the South Transept and on the façade of San Marco. The interior overall acts as an affirmation of Christian faith whereas the narthex serves as an introduction with the story of the creation displayed in mosaic.[xxxvii] The mosaic program on the façade, which primarily features St. Mark over four different entrances, serves as a patriotic installation. In all of its decoration, but particularly in its mosaic programs, San Marco is used to document Venetian and biblical history.[xxxviii]


[i]       Liz James, “Mosaic Matters: Questions of Manufacturing and Mosaicists in the Mosaics of San Marco Venice,” in San Marco, Byzantium, and the Myths of Venice, ed. Henry Macguire and Robert S. Nelson (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection, 2010), 229.

[ii] Otto Demus, The Mosaics of San Marco in Venice (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984), 200.


[iii]        Thomas Dale, “Inventing a Sacred Past: Pictorial Narratives of St. Mark the Evangelist in Aquileia and Venice, Ca. 1000-1300,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers48 (1994): 7.

[iv] Dale, 7.

[v] Dale, 8.

[vi] Dale, 8.

[vii]  Dale, 9.

[viii]  Dale, 9.

[ix]        Labatt, Annie. “Saints and Other Sacred Byzantine Figures”. InHeilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. (October 2004)

[x] Dale, 9.

[xi] Dale, 10.

[xii]        Edgar Waterman Anthony, A History of Mosaics. (New York: Hacker Art Books, 1968), 191.

[xiii] Anthony, 191.

[xiv]    Fabio Barry, “Disiecta membra: Ranieri Zeno, the Imitation of Constantinople, the Spolia

style, and justice at San Marco”, 7.

[xv]       Barry, 7.

[xvi]       James, 227.

[xvii] Demus, 18.


[xviii]       Barry, 13.

[xix]       Barry, 14.

[xx]       Barry, 14, 19.

[xxi]       Barry, 22.

[xxii]       Barry, 23.

[xxiii]       James, 228.

[xxiv]       James, 228.

[xxv]       James, 230.

[xxvi]       James, 232.

[xxvii]       James, 231.

[xxviii]       James, 231.

[xxix]       James, 232.

[xxx]       James, 232.

[xxxi] Anthony, 192.

[xxxii] Demus, 3.

[xxxiii] Demus, 3.

[xxxiv] Anthony, 193.

[xxxv] Anthony, 194.

[xxxvi] Anthony, 196.

[xxxvii] Anthony, 192.

[xxxviii]       Barry, 32.


If the link doesn’t work, here is the citation so you can find it on JSTOR:

Howard, Deborah.  “Venice and Islam in the Middle Ages: Some Observations on the Question of Architectural Influence.” Architectural History 34 (1991): 59- 74.

Paper Rough Draft

Riches of the East: Political and Economic Factors Affecting the Exterior Ornamental
Architecture of San Marco


Otto Demus wisely stated that the church
of San Marco “mirrored the rise of the Venetian Republic” and its architecture represents
the historical forces associated with its rise to power in the East and the
Venice’s established its power through commercial relations and trade expeditions
throughout the East.  Religious,
financial and political matters and activities centered on the maritime city’s
commercial successes.  Venice established
its trade relations with the Byzantine East in the sixth century and
established relations with the Islamic east as early as the ninth century.  However, after Venice’s involvement in the
Fourth Crusade, Venice truly began to integrate both Byzantine and Islamic
architectural elements into the buildings of the city.  The Church of San Marco was mostly enhanced
and embellished with these architectural elements in the thirteenth century, a
period of economic success, after Venice’s involvement in the Fourth Crusade,
the sack of Constantinople and the creation of the Latin Empire.  The Venetians flaunted their success and
power to the rest of the Western world by embellishing the church of San Marco
with spoils from the Byzantine East and emulations of Islamic architectural
details.  After a brief discussion of
mercantile politics between the Byzantine and Islamic East and Venice which led
to the Fourth Crusade and sack of Constantinople in 1204, an examination of
various architectural details added to the exterior of San Marco in the
thirteenth century will prove these additions symbolize Venice’s supremacy in
the Byzantine and Islamic East and are the visual manifestations of Venice’s
changing political and economic identity.

The location of Venice on the eastern
coast of Italy allowed it to function as a hub for a multitude of
commerce-related expeditions throughout the Byzantine Empire and the Near East
throughout its history.  However, Venice
began as a province of the Byzantine Empire.
In 535 AD, not too long after Venice’s mythical origins in 421 AD, the
Emperor Justinian brought the Veneto and therefore Venice, under the rule of
the Byzantine Empire, recognizing its advantageous location as a valuable
maritime defense location for its eastern and western holds.  As compensation for keeping their ports open
and available for Byzantine imperial ships, Venice was awarded trading
privileges throughout the Empire.[2]  Thus began Venice’s lucrative trade with the Byzantine
East.  As a result of this commercial
focus and the wealth which trade brought to the city, Venice built a stronger
fleet.  This fleet, with ships
constructed for both military and mercantile purposes, allowed Venice to
establish itself as a powerful maritime city through trade and commercial
expansion.[3]  Venice protected the Byzantine Empire from a
variety of different invasions, but Venice always ensured that her involvement
was rewarded with beneficial agreements with terms that enabled and furthered
her trade prospects.  In 991, Doge Pietro
Orseolo II recognized an expanding market in the Islamic world.  Byzantine trading ports no longer seemed
enough. The Doge recognized the benefits of multi-fronted mercantile relations:
greater economic prosperity and unaffected resources if relations with the
Byzantine Empire deteriorated.   Whether Venice’s
trading partners were Christian or Muslim, Venice only wanted their business
for her benefit.  The Doge thus sent
ambassadors throughout the Levant and other areas under Islamic rule: Spain,
Cordova, Palermo, Sicily, Cairo, Kairouan, Aleppo, and Damascus.  Ambassadors and Islamic leaders made various
agreements and Venice officially enjoyed trading relations with the Muslim

The most important political agreement
between Venice and the Byzantine Empire, however, is the chrysobull of
1082.  In the years preceding, the
Venetian fleet came to the aid of Constantinople, under attack by the
Normans.  For their service in the defeat
of the Normans, they were greatly rewarded by the Emperor Alexius.  The chrysobull consisted of a variety of
different items, including annual financial grants and grand titles, but the
most important clause involves Venetian trade status throughout the Byzantine
Empire.  It was this clause of the
chrysobull in which Emperor Alexius granted “Venetian merchants the right to
trade in all manner of merchandise in all parts of his empire free of any
charge, tax, or duty payable to his treasury.”[5]  The Venetians were essentially given a
monopoly on Mediterranean trade, especially since they already possessed
lucrative trade relations throughout the Islamic world.  Because trade relations gave Venice her power
and wealth, she recognized their importance, and looked to protect these
relations and was hesitant to join the First Crusade which began in 1095.[6]
Trade formed the basis of her power, and a failed Crusade could potentially
upset the relations with the Islamic states the crusaders attacked.  Venice did not join the first crusade until
1099, when profits and trade expansion were all but ensured.  After the Crusade, when Christians occupied
previously Islamic strongholds, Venice continued to expand her markets and
relations further into Islamic territories.[7]  Venice did not play a large role in the
Second and Third Crusades, but Venice was integral in the planning, execution,
and the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade.

However, it is important to examine the
architectural developments of the Church of San Marco before discussing
Venice’s involvement in the Fourth Crusade because following the aftermath of
the Crusade, San Marco’s exterior looked extremely different.  The Church of San Marco was rebuilt three
different times throughout its history.  In
832, the first building was consecrated after two merchants stole the body of
Saint Mark from the Egyptian city of Alexandria and smuggled it back to Venice
in 828.[8]   The
building functioned as a sepulcher, or as a reliquary for the Saint’s remains,
and continues that role even today.  A
fire in 976 destroyed this structure, and repairs and some expansions began on
the second, larger building.  In 1063,
Doge Domenico Contarini decided to demolish this second structure and replace
it with an ambitious, five-domed, Greek cross design, modeled after the church
of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople.  Contarini
hired an anonymous master architect from the Byzantine Empire and brought him
to Venice to execute his plan.[9]  The building took over thirty years to
complete. It was finally consecrated in 1094, but it looked very different from
the structure seen today.  The building
was constructed entirely in brick, had five low profile domes, similar to those
of the Roman Pantheon or the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, and aside from
columns, it lacked ornamental decoration.[10]  However, the magnitude of the structure represented
the extent of Venice’s power in 1094.  Venice’s commercial empire had grown immensely.  The Basilica parallels this economic
expansion, for it similarly grew in size and prominence in Venice since the
construction of the first church in 828.
Further, since Venice owed so much of its success to the trade agreements
and privileged forged between the Byzantine Empire and itself, the structure of
San Marco expressed a Byzantine influenced Venetian political and economic
identity.   After the fourth crusade
however, the Venetian identity expressed by San Marco drastically changed.

Venice’s involvement in the Fourth
Crusade was much like that of the First, she was involved to protect and expand
her own interests and wealth.  The
original plan of the Crusade was to enter the Islamic states through Egypt, the
weakest of Muslim occupied areas.[11]  The Crusaders planned to sail to Egypt, but
were financially inept due to a lack of interest in attacking Egypt instead of
the Holy Lands directly.  However, the
crusaders knew that Venice was the only western power to possess a fleet large
enough to ferry them there.[12]  Venice, however, did not want to join for fear
she would lose her trade relations with the Egyptians.  The current Doge, however, Enrico Dandolo,
was ambitious in character, and from the beginning of his reign, was interested
in acquiring old and new trading ports for mercantile expansion.[13]  Dandolo made and agreement with the
crusaders: if they would help Venice regain the port of Zara and allow Venice
one half of any conquests the crusades may achieve, Venice would delay their
payments for the use of their fleet.[14]  The Crusaders eagerly accepted, and after the
recapture of Zara, Venice once again proposed a deflection to Constantinople,
instead of moving into the valuable trading regions of the Levant, promising
even further glory and riches.[15]  This was met with the same enthusiasm.  Constantinople was sacked and pillaged by the
Venetians and the other European Crusaders by April of 1204.  Enrico Dandolo deflected every unfavorable
development for Venice into an advantage, and with the sack of Constantinople,
established the Latin Empire, a majority of which was under her control.[16]  Many of the architectural embellishments of
San Marco are spoils and riches taken during the sack of Constantinople.  Robert de Clari, a soldier of the crusade
described the riches of Constantinople:

…And it was so
rich, and there were so many rich vessels of gold and silver and cloth of gold
and so many rich jewels, that it was a fair marvel, the great wealth that was
brought there.  Not since the world was
made, was there ever seem or won so great a treasure or so noble or so rich,
not in the time of Alexander nor in the time of Charlemagne nor before or
after.  Nor do I think, myself, that in
the forty richest cities of the world there had been so much wealth as was
found in Constantinople…And each one of the rich men took gold ornaments or
cloth of silk and gold or anything else he wanted and carried it off…[17]


Similarly, Geoffroy of Villehardouin, a
knight of the Crusade also described the riches of  Constantinople:

The rest of the
army, scattered throughout the city, also gained so much booty; so much, indeed
that no one could estimate its amount or its value.  It included gold and silver, table services
and precious stones, satin and silk, mantles of squirrel fur, ermine and
miniver, and every choicest thing to be found on this earth.  Geoffroy de Villehardouin here declares that,
to his knowledge, so much booty had never been gained in any city since the creation
of the world.[18]

In addition to gold, silver, silks,
jewels, and fur, the Venetians brought back larger spoils from the fallen
capital city of the Byzantine Empire.
The four bronze horses, porphyry columns and the porphyry reliefs of the
four tetrarchs are all spoils brought to Venice from Constantinople.[19]

These spoils brought back to Venice, and affixed to
the west façade of San Marco, symbolize the dominance of Venetian power in the Mediterranean
with the establishment of the Latin Empire.
Instead of a province and ally of the dominant Byzantine Empire, Venice’s
identity was now the main power in the Mediterranean.

the return from the East, the Venetians adorned the brick exterior of San Marco
with the spoils from the Crusade, but also with Islamic ornamental motifs.  The Venetian’s ability to maintain a
relationship in two mercantile spheres, Byzantine and Islamic, doubled their
wealth and power in the Mediterranean and Levantine regions, and thus gave them
the means to successfully conquer Constantinople.  The Byzantine spoils, now held on Venetian
soil, symbolized the power of Venice as dominant over the lands and trading
ports of the new Latin Empire.  The Islamic
elements, not physically taken directly from the source dominance over the
Byzantine Empire represent the means by which Venice was truly able to conquer
Constantinople.   The Byzantine
architectural elements which will be examined are the four horses, the porphyry
Tetrarch sculpture and the porphyry columns.
The Islamic elements that will be examined are the Domes,  and the stone grates and arches of the Porta
Sant’ Alipio and the Porta dei Fiori.

[1] Otto Demus, The Church of San Marco in Venice, (Washington: Dumbarton Oaks
Research Library and Collection, Trustees for Harvard University, 1960), 3-4.

[2] John Julius Norwich, A History
of Venice, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), 8-9

[3] Ibid., 85.

[4] Ibid., 51.

[5] Donald M. Nicol, Byzantium and Venice A Study in Diplomatic
and Cultural Relations,
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988),  61

[6] John Julius Norwich, A History
of Venice, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), 77.

[7] Ibid., 83.

[8] Ibid., 31

[9] Ettore Vio, ed.,  The
Basilica of St. Mark in Venice,
(New York: Riverside Book Company Incorporated,
1999), 19.

[10] Domenico Crivellari and Maria Da
Villa Urbani, Basilica Di San Marco, (accessed November 11 2011)

[11]John Julius Norwich, A History of
Venice, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), 127.

[12] Jonathan Harris, Byzantium and the Crusades, (London: Hambledon
and London, 2003), 153.

[13] John Julius Norwich, A History
of Venice, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), 125.

[14] Donald M. Nicol, Byzantium and Venice A Study in Diplomatic
and Cultural Relations,
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), 128.

[15] Jonathan Harris, Byzantium and the Crusades, (London: Hambledon
and London, 2003), 154.

[16] John Julius Norwich, A History
of Venice, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982), 141.

[17] Robert of Clari, The Conquest of Constantinople, trans.
Edgar Holmes McNeal, (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1936) 101-102.

[18] Joinville and Villehardouin,
trans. M.RB. Shaw, Chronicles of the
, (Baltimore: Penguin Books),92.

Charles Freeman,  The Horses of St. Mark’s: a Story of Triumph
in Byzantium, Paris and Venice
, (New York: The Overlook Press, 2004) 88-89.

Outlining the Paper: Ideas to Include

– Look for variations

– Realist & Fantasist (find links and comparison points)

– Vedute – view painter of Venice

– Reputation of a picture/postcard artist

– Canaletto using his imagination, and also his familiarity with the city

– Capricci – like Guardi; Bellato

– “Invented” landscapes

– Compare differences and scene changes – use different perspectives and vantage points

– Include connection with the British – this has become more important than I had initially thought

– Explore prints and etchings – visit National Gallery for this.

– How does Canaletto introduce a subject?

– How does is he influenced by the Myth of Venice?

Potential Paintings

I have comprised a short, rough draft of a list of works that I would like to examine.

Grand Canal Paintings:

Grand Canal: the Rialto Bridge from the North, 1725

Grand Canal: looking North from near the Rialto Bridge, 1725

The Grand Canal and the Church of the Salute, 1730

Composite views

Venice: A Regatta on the Grand Canal, circa 1735 (A)

A Regatta on the Grand Canal, 1740 (B)


Venice: The Feast Day of Saint Roch, circa 1735

Venice: Campo S. Vidal and Santa Maria della Carita (“The Stonemason’s Yard”), 1727-1728


San Marco Paintings:

Piazza an Marco: looking South-West, 1750s

Venice: Piazza San Marco, late 1750s

Venice: Piazza San Marco and the Colonnade of the Procuratie Nuove, late 1750s


**Add England paintings, add different times of day, different views down the river?

Annotated Bibliography

Venice: Piazza di San Marco and the Colonnade of the Procuratie Nuove


Arslan, Edoardo. “New Findings on Canaletto.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, September 1948, 225-227.

This article highlights the development of Canaletto during a twenty-year span. Arslan writes that his works exhibited a higher quality of depth after his visits to England, and that there is a Dutch undertone to his landscapes. This resource will be useful for researching Canaletto’s differences in style after his time spent in London.

Baetjer, Katharine. Canaletto. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989.

This exhibition catalogue from the Metropolitan Museum of Art offers a wide collection of Canaletto’s paintings and drawings that were of special interest to the English aristocracy and were included in the Royal Collection. There are five informative essays and excellent images, as well. This will be a good resource for examining Canaletto’s development in England.

Baker, Christopher. Canaletto. London: Phaidon, 1994.

Within the first few pages, Baker explains the differences between vedute esatte (precise views) and vedute ideate (imaginary views) and why both terms apply to Canaletto. He notes that vedute esatte is often misused when describing his paintings, because Canaletto was known for tweaking the cityscape in favor of drawing more attention or engaging the viewer. However, vedute ideate, otherwise known as capricci, is also not an accurate term, because this implies total imagination. The works Canaletto created incorporated both ideas, which Baker elaborates upon by comparing forty-eight of his paintings to each other.

Barcham, William. “Canaletto and a Commission from Consul Smith.” The Art Bulletin, September 1977, 383-393.

Joseph Smith was named consul to the Venetian Republic under the Court of St. James in 1744. He commissioned three series of works by Canaletto, including several works that were a part of the Royal Collection in England. It was Consul Smith that made Canaletto popular in England, and it is an important component to this essay to note how his style developed back in Venice after his travels to England.

Beddington, Charles. Venice: Canaletto and his Rivals. London: National Gallery of London, 2010.

This book provides explanations of Canaletto’s paintings from the exhibition that was showed in the National Gallery of Art in the summer of 2011. This book is particularly useful in comparing Canaletto to his contemporaries. There are individual chapters on the lives and works of Vanvitelli, Carlevaris, Bellotti, Guardi, and several other artists. The book focuses primarily on Canaletto, however, and incorporates his works chronologically. Beddington also provides good background information and excellent images, which will be very useful when I need to examine details of the paintings.

Bomford, David. Venice through Canaletto’s Eyes. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.

Bomford notes that Luca Carlevaris (1663-1730) preceded Canaletto in view painting, and that Canaletto combined different perspectives to create his own fantasy within Venice. Bomford offers examples of some of these dual-perspective works, includingGrand Canal: the Rialto Bridge from the North, 1725. He also discusses several other artists from the time, which was useful to read for my own background knowledge. The bibliography included at the end helped me find more sources, as well.

Borenius, Tancred. “A Canaletto Curiosity.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, September 1921, 108-113.

In this article, Tancred compares Canaletto to Bellotto, and explores the topic of painting from inspiration or from history. Tancred observes that Canaletto comprised historical architecture with his own imagination, resulting in his works of art. It is interesting to see the comparison between the two artists and how both of them achieved this style differently.

Bromberg, Ruth. Canaletto’s Etchings. San Francisco: Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 1993.

This is the standard catalogue of Canaletto’s prints and since some of his etchings are views of Venice, and this may be a helpful resource in discussing his inventiveness and views of Venice. It will be important to draw comparisons between his etchings and paintings, and see if he played with perspectives in all of his celebrated mediums.

Constable, William George. “A Canaletto Capriccio.” The Burlington Museum of Fine Arts, December 1949, 81-84.

Constable will be a very important author in my research of Canaletto. This particular article touches upon his whims and imaginary executions, in combination with his literal representations of Venetian scenery. This will be a very important article to have in order to examine Canaletto’s uniqueness and fine details within his drawings, paintings, and etchings.

Constable, William George. “Canaletto and Guardi.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, December 1921, 298-303.

Constable is one of the most authorities on Canaletto and his books and articles are important resources for Canaletto and his life and work. In this article, he offers an in-depth analysis of Canaletto and fellow artist Guardi. He reveals their differences in overall content and their many similarities in style. This source will be helpful in pinpointing what made Canaletto’s technique and subjects so unique.

Constable, William George. Canaletto: Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697-1768. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.

This book is a major monographic source that describes the life of Canaletto and includes a collection of his works. This resource will be especially useful for biographical information and what kinds of influences played a large role in his development. This will also serve as a timeline that will help me organize the chronology of his most important achievements and trips.

Constable, William George. “Canaletto in England: Some Further Works.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, January 1927, 16-19.

In this article, Constable discusses Canaletto’s fluctuation in style when he returned to England in 1751. He also goes on to note that Canaletto still set a standard for his followers, despite his “monotonous and empty” style that he briefly adopted when traveling. This will be a good source in noting how he took his Venetian tradition and translated it in a different country.

Francis, Henry S. “Canaletto: Piazza San Marco, Venice.” The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art, October 1962, 186-190.

Francis begins by explaining the long history of Venice and how it remained unchanged for about five hundred years, which allows art historians to compare artists who came to Venice to paint or draw the scenery, based on technique, schooling, and time period. Canaletto’s Piazza San Marco acts as an example of this, because he uses a wide perspective space that incorporates much more than would be possible, if done accurately. Francis discusses Canaletto’s unusual use of angles and proportion in order to include the whole scene in one painting. This is a useful source because of its detailed examination of one major work.

Gioseffi, Decio. Canaletto and his Contemporaries. New York: Crown Publishers, 1960.

Gioseffi includes several comparisons between Canaletto and many of his peers. He provides many illustrations and descriptive text. This resource will also be important in discovering the distinctiveness of Canaletto and his style.

Links, J. G. Canaletto. New York: Phaidon Press Inc., 1994.

After Constable, Links is the best and most highly regarded author for Canaletto and his life. It is the most recent and authoritative source in Canaletto’s work in the context of Venetian view painting. I anticipate that this is going to be one of the most important bibliographic resources for my work. The images are remarkable and each work pictured is discussed thoroughly.

Martineau, Jane and Andrew Robison. The Glory of Venice: Art in the Eighteenth Century. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997.

This catalogue offers a wide range of art, including paintings completed by Canaletto, Guardi, and many other artists. It is a perfect illustration of the fall of the Venetian state, which was occurring throughout the century even while artistic development flourished. This is a very important resource for outlining the history of the city and noting connections between the artistic and political worlds of Venice during the eighteenth century.

Millar, Oliver. “Venice. Canaletto” The Burlington Magazine, October 1982, 652-656.

This article outlines Canaletto’s career in Venice. Millar highlights his most important works and finds thematic trends linking them together. Because my essay will primarily focus on Canaletto’s life in Venice, this article will be especially important for me.

Parker, K. T. The Drawings of Antonio Canaletto in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle. Oxford: Phaidon Press, 1948.

Parker discusses all of Canaletto’s drawings that were acquired by the king of England in the eighteenth century and are still in the Royal Collection. It will be interesting to discover whether Canaletto manipulates the views in his drawings the same way he sometimes manipulated his paintings. It will also show if Canaletto used the same approach to drawing views when he was in England as he did in Venice, or whether being in a foreign land changed the way he worked.

Von Hadeln, Detlev Baron. “Some Drawings by Canaletto.” The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, December 1926, 298-303.

Drawings often served as a basis for Canaletto’s paintings and help reveal elements of reality and fantasy that he used, sometimes starting with studies from life. Von Hadeln describes this process in his article, and focuses especially on Canaletto’s landscape drawings. It will be important to incorporate some of Canaletto’s drawings into my discussion of his views in order to see the differences in detail between his drawings and paintings.

Weinhardt, Jr., Carl J. “Canaletto: Master Etcher.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin, November 1958, 77-87.

In this article, Weinhardt talks about Canaletto’s history in Venice. He discusses the idea of a Grand Tour as being a mandatory part of a gentleman’s education, in which he would travel and acquire continental polish. Weinhardt also notes how important Canaletto’s etchings were to his development as an artist. This article will be useful in researching the characteristics of Canaletto’s etchings and how they differ from his painted city views.

Paper Proposal – Revised

Grand Canal Looking North from near the Rialto Bridge

Canaletto and his Perspectives of Venice

            Canaletto (1697-1768) played a large role in depicting Venetian lifestyles and cityscapes through his use of light, color, and detail in his eighteenth-century paintings and drawings. He was considered one of the first Venetian vedutisti, or view painters, following the ground-breaking example of Luca Carlevarijs (1663-1730). Canaletto is most notably recognized for his creative interpretations of his native city, otherwise known as capricci. When he was painting particular views, he frequently made changes, adding or omitting buildings, altering proportions, or creating shadows that did not exist; he even adjusted the size and shape of the Grand Canal. He thus remodeled the actual cityscape in his paintings and created a new reality, but the postcard-like quality of his views persuades the spectator that they were painted as seen.

One example of Canaletto’s creative view-painting is Grand Canal: the Rialto Bridge from the North (Fig. 1), which reveals that he combined two separate views into one painting. If one stands on one of the landing stages where Canaletto must have placed himself to paint this work, only the end wall of the Fabbriche, seen at the right of the painting, would be visible to the right of the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi, shown to the left of the Fabbriche Vecchie. One block away, there is another landing stage where one can see the Fabbriche Vecchie, but only the side wall of the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi. However, Canaletto sketched the scene so that both the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi and Fabbriche Vecchie were visible from one viewpoint, which is not possible. This means that the right-hand-side of the Grand Canal was completed separately and combined into one view.

For my paper, I would like to focus on Canaletto’s celebration of Venice and its culture by examining several sets of his drawings and paintings that show different parts of the city.  I will compare the images to the actual views and to each other, discussing their similarities and differences in content and style. I will begin by studying briefly the techniques and styles of a couple of view painters who influenced Canaletto, including Gaspar van Wittel (1653-1736) and Carlevarijs, and will then discuss Canaletto’s own approach to painting city views.  Finally, I will elaborate on his capricci, pointing out what makes them particularly distinctive. Canaletto’s beautiful views of his native city played a critical role in the development of the new tradition of vedute, and his works came to be regarded as the supreme examples of a genre that combined reality with some elements of fantasy.


Here is my revised title for my topic/presentation:

The Artistic Crusade from the East: The Political, Economic, and Religious Factors Affecting Byzantine and Islamic Influences on the Art and Architecture of the Church of San Marco

Title and Thesis

The title for my Venice project is:

St. Mark and the Basilica: A look at the myth of Venice through the medium of mosaic at San Marco


Also I have worked on organizing my thesis:

The decoration of the Basilica of San Marco is a celebration of the self-made and appropriated myths of Venice. For example the programs of the exterior and interior mosaics portray narratives of St. Mark’s miracles and Venice’s success in obtaining a relic by stealing St. Mark’s body and thus legitimizing themselves as an important city in a medieval world. The mosaics of St. Mark also demonstrate an amalgamation of decorative techniques, styles and iconography adopted from areas of major influence on Venice such as Rome and the Italian Peninsula as well as Constantinople and the Middle East.