Dresden from the Right Bank of the Elbe, below the Augustus Bridge
Bellotto, Bernardo, gen. Canaletto (1722-1780) | Painter
This has become an iconic image of the city. It shows the famous “Canaletto view”. From the riverbank of the ‘New Royal City’ we look towards the Old Town. The bridge, recently rebuilt by Pöppelmann, stretches 400 metres over the Elbe. On the right is the Catholic Court Church. Its tower had not yet been built, so Bellotto referred to the Italian architect’s drawings. Bellotto’s extraordinary artistic skill is evident from, among other things, the extremely realistic reflections on the water surface.
How did Bellotto manage to capture such a comprehensive panoramic view onto the canvas in such detail, so accurately, and with almost mathematical precision? Was it all freehand drawing or did he have mechanical aids to help him?
Scholars assume Bellotto worked with a camera obscura. After all, at that time, professional artists quite commonly worked with such a device. Bellotto’s uncle Antonio Canal, renowned as Canaletto, was also known to use a camera obscura. Since Bellotto started training with Canaletto when he was fourteen years old, he most likely also adopted the same technique.
The camera obscura – its Latin name literally means ‘dark chamber’ – functions as a kind of camera. It consists of a dark box with a small hole in one side. Through that small hole, light enters to show the scene outside as an inverted mirror image on a screen or wall opposite the hole. An artist can then place a drawing surface on the screen or wall, and trace the projected image. But the projected image is not entirely precise. Above all, large scenes or views can be distorted. Moreover, the section projected is rather narrow, so the artist would have to move the device several times to capture a panoramic view. Most likely, then, Bellotto used a camera obscura to sketch individual sections of a view of Dresden and then, in a final step, assembled the sections to create the entire composition.
- Material & Technique
- Oil on canvas
- Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister
- Inventory number
- Gal.-Nr. 606