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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.
Bellotto was apprenticed by his uncle in his workshop until he was about 21 years old. During this period he moved to Rome, where he produced several vedute, a kind of painting often depicting highly precise cityscapes and other vistas. Bellotto kept moving towards northern Italy and again, creating a vedute of each city he went through. Amongst other distinguished patrons, Bernardo Bellotto worked for Charles Emmanuel III of Savoy.
Bellotto established himself in Dresden between 1747 to 1758, upon an invitation from King August III of Poland. In this period Bellotto executed several paintings of the cities of Pirna and Dresden. 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. An example of a painting of this period is Dresden From the Right Bank of the Elbe Above the Augustus Bridge.
Bellotto’s reputation and international recognition only grew. In 1758, he went to Vienna after an invitation from Empress Maria Theresa, where he painted several scenes of the city’s monuments. 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 to 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 lost importance significantly. As a result, Bellotto left Dresden in order 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. In 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. Bellotto also painted 26 vedute of Warsaw. He created an art school for painting which was later continued and developed by Marcin Zaleski and Zygmunt Vogel. Bernardo Bellotto died in 1780, in Warsaw.