This view of Padua is one of about twenty of the mainland town and its environs identified by Constable and Links (op. cit., nos. 675-697), and one of only three listed in private collections (nos. 685, 691*, 692). In the present drawing we see two of Padua's most important and distinctive buildings. At the left is the Church of San Francesco Grande, built in the fifteenth century. At the far right is the Palazzo della Salone or Hall of Justice which was established in the 13th century, and through restoration in the 15th century became the largest vaulted building (i.e. with no interior supporting columns) in Europe at the time. Its pendant, A farm on the outskirts of Padua is at Windsor (Constable and Links, op. cit., I, pl. 126; II, p. 553, no. 694). Canaletto made a tour in and around Padua with his nephew, the artist Bernardo Bellotto (1720-1780) between 1740 and 1741, and most of these drawings have been dated to that period. It was at a time Canaletto largely stopped painting and devoted himself almost exclusively to drawing and etching. Canaletto's graphic works from this period are freer and less formulaic, more atmospheric, rather than topographical.
Canaletto developed this composition in two other drawings (Constable and Links, op. cit., I, pl. 124; II, pp. 547-48, nos. 679-680). A small pen and ink drawing at the Accademia, Venice (8.6 x 13.5 cm.) most likely from a sketchbook, condenses the view and brings the church and the Palazzo della Ragione closer together and nearer the foreground, which is summarily indicated by a few trees and a line indicating a wall or ramparts. Canaletto scribbled notes on the sheet, recording the buildings and the distances between them. In a drawing at Windsor executed in pen and brown ink over black chalk and measuring 18.7 x 27.1 cm., Canaletto opened up the composition to show the gently rolling hills in the foreground and the vast sweep of cloudy sky over the city. The church and hall of justice anchor each end of the view. Finally, in the present sheet, the foreground is populated with figures, the Church and Hall of Justice dominate the townscape, and the grey wash 'has been skillfully used to pull together and dramatize the composition as seen [in the Windsor drawing]' (op. cit., p. 548). On the verso Canaletto has used just the grey wash to repeat the same composition as the recto.
Canaletto used grey wash to unify another view of Padua, The Brenta Canal and the Porto Portello, now in the Robert Lehman Collection at the Metropolitan Museum (op. cit., no. 676). Like the present drawing, the artist indicated the buildings, figures and outlines of clouds in pen and brown ink, and then used varying densities of grey wash to indicate shadow, volume and atmosphere. The Lehman drawing relates to a rare painted view of Padua by Canaletto, which is now in the National Gallery of Art (Samuel H. Kress Collection, inv. 1961.9.53). A version was also sold at Christie's, London, 19 April 1996 (lot 249) (Constable and Links, op. cit., II, no. 375, and under no. 375). These paintings have been dated to at least a decade after Canaletto's visit to the Veneto mainland.
In the 1750s, there were several publications of prints based on Canaletto's drawings. Canaletto was himself a skilled etcher, and his small output (34 etchings total, dated mostly from the early 1740s) is a high point in eighteenth century Venetian printmaking. They include only one imaginary view of Padua (Bromberg 11). The present composition, however, was engraved in reverse by Fabio Berardi for a publication, Sei Villaggi Campestri, issued by Joseph Wagner (Fig. 1). Wagner issued three publications based on Canaletto's drawings by various engravers.
Bernardo Bellotto, Canaletto's nephew and travelling companion during his 1740-41 visit to Padua and the Brenta, made a pen and ink sketch after the present composition (Drawings from New York Collections III: The eighteenth century in Italy, exh. cat., New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1971, p. 69, under no. 58; p. 90, no. 215, pl. 215), as well as one after the Lehman sheet (S. Kozakiewicz, Bernardo Bellotto, London 1972, II, p. 28, fig. 34, p. 30, no. 34).