This is one of three small versions of the large Market Square at Pirna at Dresden (138 x 240 cm.) that are accepted as fully autograph by Kozakiewicz (no. 211) who suggests, on the basis of the reproduction, that this picture dates from the end of the first Dresden period.
From his arrival in Dresden in 1747 until the outbreak of the Seven Years War in 1756, when the Saxons surrendered to the Prussians, Bellotto was in the service of the Elector of Saxony, Frederick Augustus II (King Augustus III of Poland [1733-63]), and of his powerful first minister Heinrich, Count Brühl. His annual salary of 1,750 talers was the highest ever paid to a court painter at Dresden. During this period he painted a series of twenty-nine large views of Dresden, Pirna and the nearby fortress of Königstein for the King. Except for the five pictures of Königstein, all were delivered to the King and are now in the Gemäldegalerie at Dresden.
In 1753, six years after his arrival in Dresden and after he had painted fourteen views of the city, Bellotto turned his attention to Pirna, ten miles upstream on the Elbe, dominated by the massive Schloss Sonnenstein. He was to produce eleven views in three years, four of which are already documented in the inventory of 1754 (G.J.M. Weber, in the catalogue of the exhibition, Bernardo Bellotto 1722-1780, Venice, Museo Correr, 10 February-22 June 2001, p. 184).
To enable Bellotto to work freely, Count Brühl sent a warrant, dated 26 April 1753, to the administrator of Pirna, Bailiff Crusius, requiring him and other officials to afford the Hofmaler every assistance while he was making drawings, not to obstruct him in any way, and to let him work without the 'least of objections'. This was in the interest of both the King, for whom Bellotto painted the prime series of views, and in that of Brühl who himself ordered replicas - of the same format - of thirteen of the views of Dresden and eight of those of Pirna; his replica of this view is now in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow (Kozakiewicz, no. 212). After the flight of the King from Dresden in 1756, the artist moved to Pirna, remaining there until his migration to Vienna in 1758.
The Market Place is seen from the west - a view that has altered relatively little today. On the left of the square is the Rathaus, with at its nearest extremity the open extension covering the municipal scales. The Canalettohaus, in which the artist stayed, is at the further end of the Market Place. To the left of this is the church of Sankt Marien: above the roofs of the houses to the right of this rises the great fortress of Sonnenstein.
Like the signed version of this format formerly at Berlin (Kozakiewicz, no. 213), which had a companion Pirna from the South with the Obertor (Kozakiewicz, no. 209), also lost in 1945, and the comparable picture at Houston (Kozakiewicz, no. 215), this canvas conforms with the Dresden proto-type rather than the ex-Brühl canvas in Moscow in the few passages where the latter differs from this, notably the large group of figures at the far end of the Market Place to the right of the Rathaus. A large drawing at Warsaw, National Museum, Rys. Pol. 2044 (Kozakiewicz, no. 216), in which the group in question is included, is regarded by Kozakiewicz as probably preparatory for all the pictures.