by Rory Buccheri
courtesy of University of Aberdeen
One does not need to travel far to encounter a breathtaking view, so different from that offered by the picturesque chimneys of the Granite City’s cityscape.
As you step in the Sir Duncan Rice Gallery, the view suddenly opens towards an open, dawning sky above a restful, yet maniacally constructed landscape: it’s the magnificent newly-discovered Canaletto painting. In custody of the city of Aberdeen for many centuries, the painting has just recently been confirmed to be a work of the world-famous Venetian artist Canaletto and has been warmly received both by the University environment and in the outer bounds of the city.
Senior Lecturer John Gash, first to question the authenticity of the painting, which was previously labelled as a copy, held a public lecture on the 7th of this month. The aim of this engaging lecture was to unwrap the uncanny layers of the fascinating capriccio by the Venetian artist. The lecture’s main focus was on the newly-confirmed painting, however it didn’t fail to provide an interesting account of the work’s background, the connection to the artist and his contemporaries and the recent re-discovery after years spent in the shadows of the Principal’s lodgings.
The painting, a ‘Capriccio with Roman Ruins and a Bishop’s Tomb’, belongs to a particular category of landscape paintings: it is a capriccio, where fictitious attributes and ornaments are present within a realistic landscape. This capriccio, one of the finest examples of its genre, presents an harmony of real-life features such as the Pyramid of Cestius in Rome, as well as the elaborated construction of a temple adjacent to a red-brick house, whose ample arches open the view towards a fine cityscape on the left and towards a Bishop’s tomb on the right.
What made Mr. Gash suspicious about the true nature of the presumed copy was, as he has disclosed in last week’s session, the chevron present in the sturdy pillar right above the fountain. Gash passionately explained how the chevron, together with other recurring motifs like the red hat and the hanged washing, is a signature mark of the Venetian artist. The verification in itself, conducted by Gash and his collaborating team, began with the close analysis of the painter’s own signature.
The Aberdeen Canaletto is finally receiving the deserved attention, after being hung for several years in various locations in Aberdeen, including the Court Room in Marischal College and the Principal’s Lodgings. It will be possible to see the painting as part of the exhibition hosted by the Sir Duncan Rice Library until the 22nd of February. The display features the uncovered Canaletto and two other fine examples of landscape paintings, one of which is attributed to Canaletto’s father, Bernardo Canal.