Gaspar van Wittel was born in 1653 in Amersfoot, near Utrecht. Most commonly referred to by his Italianized name, Vanvitelli, the artist was also nicknamed 'Gasparo dagli Occhiali' (Gaspar of the spectacles), a moniker that referred to his bespectacled appearance and possibly alluded to his keen sense of observation. Arriving in Rome around 1675, Vanvitelli became one of the most important and innovative painters of topographical views known as vedute. Building upon a tradition of idealized and heroic landscape painting that had been established by foreign travelers to the peninsula, most notably Claude Lorrain and Nicolas Poussin, Vanvitelli brought with him a predilection for meticulous descriptions of contemporary urban views in the manner of Jan van der Heyden or Gerrit Berckheyde. His carefully recorded paintings are thus conceived with strict adherence to their panoramic perspectives. In contrast to other Northern landscapists active in Rome in the later-seventeenth century who had attempted to convey a more generic Italianate atmosphere dotted with some of the most famous antique ruins of Rome and its surroundings, Vanvitelli concentrated on the modern buildings of the city, predominantly depicting lesser-known views and avoiding the more celebrated monuments (the Colosseum being, however, one notable exception), while filling his paintings with contemporary, rather than Arcadian, staffage. This new vision was to prove enormously influential on subsequent generations of view painters such as Canaletto and Bellotto.
Vanvitelli was predominantly active in Rome, where he met with immediate success, although he did venture to Northern and Southern Italy on several occasions. In the Eternal City, he initially worked for prominent Italian patrons, most notably the Colonna family. Later in his career, he broadened his audience, producing vedute for Grand Tour travellers from France and England. By the end of his life, Vanvitelli's fame was considerable.
While precise dates of Vanvitelli's journey to Venice are unknown, he must have travelled there at least once in his career, perhaps during one of his two recorded voyages to Northern Italy in 1690 and 1694. The artist painted the present view using drawings prepared from a uniquely Venetian vantage point: on the water itself. Vanvitelli appears to have conceived his composition while on a boat in the Bacino di San Marco, although the preparatory drawings no longer exist. The Punta della Dogana occupies the center of the canvas, with the soaring domes of the church of Santa Maria della Salute. On the extreme left, the Isola della Giudecca is seen with the Palladio's majestic church of the Redentore. To the right, one sees the entrance to the Grand Canal, the now-destroyed Fontegheto della Farina and the old fish market. This is the view that would have greeted all visitors to the Serrenissima upon their arrival up until the nineteenth century, and consequently was one that would have especially appealed to Vanvitelli's Grand Tourist clients. It is thus not surprising that the artist painted this view on at least seven occasions, each with minor variations. Two of these paintings are dated 1710 and 1721 with inscriptions specifying that they had been made from drawings made from life in Venice. Ludovica Trezzani has suggested that the canvas, and its pendant (see lot 33) may correspond to two paintings recorded in the inventory of Don Luís de la Cerda Fernández de Córdova Folch de Cardona y Aragón, the 9th Duke of Medinaceli, which was recorded upon his death in 1711. Future research may reveal that the two paintings were commissioned by the Duke, or perhaps that Vanvitelli painted them as a tribute to his great patron.