Bernardo Bellotto was an Italian printmaker and landscape painter that created cityscapes known as vedute and capriccio. Bellotto signed his artworks as Bernardo Canaletto, not to be mistaken with his uncle and teacher, the distinguished Giovanni Antonio Canal, also known as Canaletto. Bellotto's landscapes were characterized by rich foliage, massed clouds, cast shadows, and prominence of steely greys. Bellotto's artwork was significant as it became a crucial reference for Dresden's reconstruction after the almost complete leveling of the city during the Second World War. They were used even to recreate architectural ornaments, attesting to Bellotto's topographical fidelity.
Bernardo Bellotto was born in January 1721 in Venice. He was the son of Lorenzo Bellotto, and his wife, Fiorenza Canal, was the sister of the renowned painter Giovanni Antonio Canal Canaletto. Bernardo would later sign his name "Canaletto" after his uncle.
Beginning around fourteen years of age, Bellotto was apprenticed by his uncle in his workshop until he was about 21 years old. By 1742, the young artist went to Rome. According to scholars, his main goal was to study topographical and architectural paintings, as did his uncle in the past. Bellotto returned to Venice in the following year. During his last year in Venice, he worked closely with his uncle.
According to scholars, Bellotto's hand would be recognized in his uncle's paintings as early as 1740 with some characteristics that later marked his future style. It is also suggested that the artist drew some compositions that were later painted by Canaletto.
Two paintings mark Bellotto's early production as an independent artist; View of Gazzada Near Varese and View of Turin Near the Royal Palace, from 1744 and 1475, respectively. They differ from Canaletto's production, especially with his color palette and handling of light; unlike his uncle's clear pastel palette, Bellotto presented the viewer with a composition with far more saturated hues of brown and green, as well as more intense shadows.
Bellotto established himself in Dresden between 1747 to 1758, upon an invitation from King August III of Poland and Saxony. In this period, Bellotto executed several paintings of the cities of Pirna and Dresden, twenty-nine in total. Some beautiful examples are Pirna Seen From the Harbour Town and Dresden, the Frauenkirche and the Rampische Gasse. The artist also created beautiful renditions of The Fortress of Konigstein and Fortress of Sonnenstein.
Today, these artworks help preserve the memory of Dresden's late beauty. It was destroyed after the notorious bombing of Dresden by Allied Forces during the Second World War when the city's architecture was almost completely leveled.
It was also in Dresden that Bellotto would fully develop his style. His production became characterized by mathematical attention to perspective and strong compositional organization. These elements, allied with his masterful topographical precision and handling of light, resulted in remarkable cityscapes.
The style of cityscapes executed by Bellotto is known as veduta, in the plural, vedute, which means "views" in English. These paintings are characterized by the artist's careful attention to the architectural elements of the city. An early and one of the most significant examples of this kind of artwork is Johannes Vermeer's View of Delft.
The style would later branch into another, known as capricci. They were partly or entirely fictional landscapes with several architectural elements or archeological ruins arranged in a manner to create impactful and fantastical compositions. Some beautiful examples of Bellotto's capricci are Capriccio with the Colosseum, Capriccio of the Capitol, and Capriccio Romano, and Gate Tower.
Bellotto's reputation and international recognition only grew. In 1758, fleeing from the Seven Years War, he went to Vienna after an invitation from Empress Maria Theresa. He painted several scenes of the city's monuments and views with princely and imperial residences.
After leaving Vienna, he spent a year in Munich, Bavaria. In letters from Empress Maria Theresa to her cousin, Maria Antonia of Bavaria, she highly praised Bellotto's artistic prowess. This helped him receive many commissions from Bavaria's ruling family. By the end of 1761, he returned to Dresden.
King August III of Poland, who was also an Elector of Saxony and usually lived in Dresden, died in 1763. Following his death, Bellotto's artwork significantly lost importance. During this period, the artist produced only two vedute, such as The Moat of Zwinger in Dresden, and some capricci.
Soon, the artist would leave Dresden to seek employment at Catherine II of Russia's court in Saint Petersburg. However, on his way to St. Petersburg, Bellotto received and accepted an invitation from Stanislaus Augustus Poniatowski, newly elected King of Poland, to become his court painter in Warsaw.
He was a court painter in Warsaw for the remainder of his life, for 16 years. During this period, Bellotto executed several paintings, including numerous views of Warsaw and its region. His early commissions include decoration the Ujazdow Castle. He would even accomplish commissions alongside his son Lorenzo, such as a large commission composed of fourteen views of Rome, both ancient and papal, based on a series of etchings by Giovanni Battista Piranesi, called Vedute di Roma.
Bernardo Bellotto died in 1780 in Warsaw. Despite being an admirable painter, perhaps Bellotto's most important contribution was his views of Dresden, which, as stated before, were essential for the city's reconstruction. Today, one of Bellotto's paintings can achieve a value of over 7 million dollars. Bellotto's topographical fidelity is often attributed to the use of camera obscura, a mechanism developed by early artists to project images and assist in the drafting process.