Views of Venice light up London in new Canaletto show

Views of Venice that entranced 18th century travellers and were immortalised by Canaletto and his fellow painters lit up London this week at a major new exhibition at the National Gallery.

"Canaletto And His Rivals" shows paintings by Venetian artist Giovanni Antonio Canal (Canaletto) and other artists who recorded the city's sights for visiting aristocrats who wanted to remember its beauty when they went home.

The result is about 50 glorious pictures of the finest views of Venice, from the Grand Canal, the Piazza San Marco, the Rialto and the Lagoon - views which continue to fascinate visitors to the city today.

"These paintings are still fulfilling the basic function for which they were created, and that's to remind people, when they are away from Venice, of the great marvellous experience of this city rising from the water," Dawson Carr, curator at the National Gallery, told AFP.

Venice was a stop on the "grand tour of Europe" made by the young socialites of northern Europe and particularly England at the time, and in an age before photographs and postcards, the paintings were an ideal reminder of their trip.

The London exhibition displays Canaletto's work alongside contemporaries such as Gaspare Vanvitelli, the founding father of Italian view painting, and Luca Carlevarijs, the first view painter to depend on foreign patronage.

Also included are paintings by Michele Marieschi, Canaletto's nephew Bernardo Bellotto, and Francesco Guardi, who outlived Canaletto by 25 years.

Canaletto was the undisputed master of the genre, capturing "the grandeur of the place, a great city rising from the water, and the special light and atmosphere of Venice", said Carr.

He added: "We of course all have digital cameras and we can snap, snap, snap but no matter how good the camera or the photographer, somehow a photograph just can't do what this kind of painting does."

The exhibition runs from October 13 to January 16, 2011.