This panorama shows the Bacino di San Marco from a point south of the Riva dei Schiavone. On the left is the campanile and church of the monastery of S. Giorgio Maggiore, seen above a subsidiary range, later used as barracks; on the Giudecca are visible the church of the Zitelle and Palladio's Redentore; to the left of the centre is the Punta del Dogana and Longhena's great church of S. Maria della Salute, with to the right of this the entrance to the Grand Canal; on the right are Sansovino's Libreria, the columns of the Piazzetta, the Doge's Palace and the Prisons.
The unusual horizontal format of the canvas -- which, as the evidence of cusping attests has not been reduced -- suggests that it is likely to have been commissioned as an overmantel for the English market. And the knowledge that it was to be hung rather high may in part explain its pictorial character.
The largest variant of the subject from the immediate circle of Canaletto is the panorama successively in the Morice and the Ashburnham collections which was sold in these Rooms, 11 July 2001, lot 100 (W.G. Constable, Canaletto, Oxford, 1962, no. 140). This was first recorded as by Canaletto himself by Horace Walpole in 1781, and is related to a series of studies in his Accademia sketchbook (Constable, pl. 167). That picture is also of wide format and may have been intended as an overmantle. Dario Succi (letter of 5 April 2001), proposed an attribution to the young Bellotto.
The present previously unpublished picture is much more directly related to Bellotto's early work. This is obvious in the diagonal hatching in the sky -- which is found in almost all that artist's views of the later 1730s, in the tonality of the picture, and indeed, as Charles Beddington notes, in the blacks of the vessels. That this picture was executed under Bellotto's aegis is not in question, but the extent of that artist's direct participation is open to debate. Charles Beddington believes that he was responsible for some of the more prominent figures, and for the spontaneously realised groups of bystanders on the fondamenta: other passages also, for example the detail of the houses on the extreme right, have a liveliness that may imply the master's intervention. The architecture in general and the boats would seem to represent the contribution of an assistant -- distinct from Beddington's Lyons Master who may prove to be identifiable with the artist's younger brother Pietro Bellotti -- who may, in Beddington's view, have been responsible for a number of other works from Bellotto's immediate circle: these include one of the variants of a view of the Bacino from the Zattere (whereabouts unknown), in which the façade of San Giorgio seems particularly close in handling to the Salute in this panorama; and a variant of the present composition with the addition of a fondamenta in the foreground, sold in these Rooms, 23 April 1993, lot 258. A picture formerly at Winton Castle, Pencaitland, sold at Sotheby's, London, 8 July 1930, lot 81, would as Beddington suggests seem to be copied from the central section of the present canvas.
Sir Max Michaelis was one of the closely interknit group of businessmen who made their fortune in South Africa in the late nineteenth century and assembled notable collections -- the others included Alfred Beit, Sir Julius Wernher and Sir Joseph Robinson. Michaelis also owned a notable early work by Bellotto, The Grand Canal, looking East from the Palazzo Flangini, which was sold in these Rooms, 16 December 1998, lot 78. It has subsequently been suggested that this was among the Venetian views sold privately from Castle Howard in the 1890s, a proposal strengthened by evidence that Beit obtained, also privately, two Marieschis from this source. It is hypothetically possible that the present canvas came from Castle Howard, and thus formed part of the large group of Venetian views by Canaletto, Bellotto, Marieschi and, perhaps, others ordered in Venice for Henry, 4th Earl of Carlisle (1684-1758).