At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Tuesday, 21 November 2017

Antonio Visentini – architect and engraver

His copies took Canaletto paintings to wider world


Visentini's engraving, a copy of a Canaletto painting, looking east along the Grand Canal from Santa Croce
Visentini's engraving, a copy of a Canaletto painting, looking
east along the Grand Canal from Santa Croce
Antonio Visentini, whose engravings from Canaletto’s paintings helped the Venetian artist achieve popularity and earn commissions outside Italy, particularly in England, was born on this day in 1688 in Venice.

A pupil of the Baroque painter Giovanni Antonio Pellegrini, Visentini was commissioned by Canaletto’s agent, Joseph Smith, who was the British Consul in Venice, to produce engravings of Canaletto’s celebrated views of the city to be published as a catalogue.

Engraving itself was an intricate skill and in the days before photography anyone who could produce faithful copies of paintings or original art that could be printed on paper was much in demand.

Visentini embarked on his first series of 12 Canaletto views, mainly of canal scenes, in around 1726 and they were published in 1735.

Visentini's capriccio of Mereworth Castle in Kent
Visentini's capriccio of Mereworth Castle in Kent
This was followed by two more series of engravings of Canaletto works arranged by Smith, which were published in 1742.  In all, Visentini copied some 38 Canaletto views, which not only furthered Canaletto’s career but his own.

Smith encouraged Canaletto to travel to England to paint views of London, while Visentini himself was engaged in collaboration with Francesco Zuccarelli, an artist originally from Tuscany, to paint capricci – idealised fantasy views – of some grand English residences, including Burlington House, a mansion on Piccadilly in Mayfair, and Mereworth Castle, a copy of Andrea Palladio’s Villa Capra – better known as La Rotonda – in Kent.

Visentini had a long association with Joseph Smith, who hired him in 1740 to renovate and redesign his residence on the Grand Canal, Palazzo Balbi, which he had hitherto been renting but decided to buy after being told the position of British Consul was to be his.

The Palazzo Giusti on the Grand Canal was  built in 1766 to Visentini's plans
The Palazzo Giusti on the Grand Canal was
built in 1766 to Visentini's plans
Smith, an enormous admirer of Palladio, wanted the palace in particular to have a Palladian façade.  Originally built in 1582 as the residence of the Balbi family, the palace is now the seat of the president of the Veneto region and the regional council.

Further along the Grand Canal, Visentini designed the Palazzo Giusti, a four-storey structure built in 1766 for the Miani family, who would later sell it to the Coletti, who in turn sold it on to the Giusti family.  Visentini’s design features three ground-floor niches, displaying statues.

In Vicenza, Visentini painted frescoes at the Villa Valmarana, for which Gian Domenico Tiepolo painted the figures.

In the 1760s the English architect James Wyatt travelled to Venice to study with Visentini as an architectural draughtsman and painter.

Visentini, who was also the author of a number of treatises on perspective, was a professor at the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice from 1772–78. He died in his home city in 1782 at the age of 93.

The Palazzo Balbi at the entrance to Rio de Ca' Foscari
The Palazzo Balbi at the entrance to Rio de Ca' Foscari
Travel tip:

Palazzo Balbi can be found on the Grand Canal at the point at which the canal makes a near-90 degree turn at the entrance to the Rio de Ca’ Foscari.  It was between 1582 and 1590 to a design by Alessandro Vittorio in a Mannerist style characterized by Renaissance and Baroque influences.  The Ca’ Foscari, on the opposite side of the Rio de Ca’ Foscari, tends to attract more attention from visitors but the Palazzo Balbi is a handsome building nonetheless.

The Baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute
The Baroque church of Santa Maria della Salute
Travel tip:

Palazzo Balbi is in the Dorsoduro sestieri, a favourite district with many regular visitors to Venice with a rather more relaxed atmosphere, say, than San Marco, where it is possible to feel overwhelmed by the numbers of tourists.  Yet Dordosuro contains many notable attractions, such as the church of Santa Maria della Salute, the Accademia gallery, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and the Ca’ Rezzonico museum. The Campo Santa Margherita is popular for its late-night bars, particularly with students, who relish its more Bohemian feel.

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