The nephew of the famous Canaletto, Venetian-born Bernardo Bellotto painted this sweeping view of Dresden at the height of his career — demonstrating a skill and maturity to rival that of his uncle. Earlier view paintings had confirmed Bellotto’s status as a talented artist in his own right, and he was called to Dresden by August III — the King of Saxony — to record the city’s rapidly evolving skyline.
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‘This particular view was really Bellotto’s statement piece, one of a handful of versions he painted shortly after he moved from Italy to Dresden,’ explains Christie’s specialist Eugene Pooley. ‘It’s a work that’s steeped in history — not only in terms of the importance of the view, but because of the story it tells about Bellotto’s relationship with the court at Dresden, and his career as an artist. It was this composition that really saw him established as the pre-eminent view painter of his time — not just in Dresden but cities throughout Europe.’
‘From a market point of view,’ Pooley adds, ‘it’s extremely rare to have a view of Dresden by Bellotto come to auction: this is the only view of its type in private hands.’
Bernardo Bellotto (1721-1780), Dresden from the Right Bank of the Elbe Above the Augustus Bridge. Oil on Canvas. Estimate: £8,000,000-12,000,000. This work will be offered in our Old Master & British Paintings Evening Sale on 9 July at Christie’s in London.
1. A symbol of the ‘New Dresden’
To the left of the picture, Bellotto paints the towering dome of the elaborate Frauenkirche — which, at the time of painting, had just been completed. Built between 1726-43, the structure was an integral part of the powerful ‘new Dresden’ built by Augustus II and III.
Flanked by the prime minister’s official quarters — which run along the banks of the Elbe — the building was razed to the ground during the Second World War, its dome collapsing as some 650,000 incendiary bombs sent the surrounding temperature spiralling to 1,000 degrees Celsius.
In the 2000s, the Frauenkirche was reconstructed, with 3,800 of the original stones — blackened by fire — incorporated into the new structure. Once a symbol of Dresden’s might and cultural influence, the Frauenkirche became a very different symbol of the devastation wrought by the Second World War. ‘Today, its meaning has shifted again, with the church not only re-consecrated as a place of worship but now standing too as a monument to peace for future generations,’ comments Pooley.
2. A city in constant motion
To the right of the Frauenkirche, the original Augustusbrücke spans the River Elbe, connecting the contemporary right bank with the historic south. Widened in 1727, the structure provided a vital link for traders — its sandstone arches still allowing the passage of river traffic. Points of colour along the bridge indicate people crossing, Bellotto giving the idea of a living city, in constant motion.
Overlooking the river, the Hofkirche provided a Catholic place of worship, framing Bellotto’s composition with the Protestant Frauenkirche to its left. ‘Both the Hofkirche and Augustusbrücke are reflected in the Elbe with exceptional skill,’ Pooley adds.
3. Insights into life at court
In the foreground Bellotto depicts groups of figures, with those closest to the viewer having been identified (from left to right) as the court physician, Filippo di Violanti, the contralto Niccolò Pozzi, an unnamed Turk, and the court jester Frölich. Each represents different aspects of the court, Bellotto bringing music, arts and medicine together.
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The smartly dressed figures of the court contrast with the rural activity which surrounds them: clothes are hung on a line towards the top left, whilst, to the right, workers stand on a cart, their backs bathed in cool afternoon light.
Bellotto is thought to have first captured this view from the north bank of Dresden’s river Elbe, where he stood in the garden of Councillor Hoffman — the husband of the Venetian miniaturist painter Felicita Sartori, whom the artist is presumed to have known.
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