The title of this picture, mistranscribed in the Royal Academy lists of 1853, comes from Love's Labour's Lost, Act IV, Scene ii, where Jacquenetta asks Holofernes to read her a letter from Don Adriano de Amrado. Holofernes replies: 'Ah good old Mantuan! I may speak of thee as the traveller doth of Venice ... Venetia, Venetia, Chi non te vede, non ti pretia'. The quotation appears to be from a contemporary Italian proverb, and translates as 'Venice, Venice, who does not see you, cannot appreciate you.'
Its use as a title for his picture may have occured to Cooke who liked to be read to while painting.
Cooke spent ten seasons in Venice between 1850 and 1877, initially visiting the city in search of new subject matter following the success of his Royal Academy exhibits of Dutch, French, and other Italian views. His loyal gondolier, Vincenzo Grilla, rowed the artist to new vantage points on the lagoon for each painting, and adapted his gondola by raising the felze or cabin top by 12 inches to accomodate larger canvases. Although Cooke's views may sometimes appear to be capriccios, they are faithful records, taken from unusual angles, without an element of caprice about them.
Cooke's principal interest was the shipping craft, in this instance the large, lumbering trabacoli, laden with wood, against which the city, and its magnificent skies, form a backdrop. His attention to detail echoed that of the Pre-Raphaelites and was praised by their champion Ruskin, who with his wife Effie spent much of the early 1850s there writing The Stones of Venice, published in three volumes between 1851 and 1853.
This particular picture received praise from the Art Journal when exhibited in 1853:'This is a view of Venice from a point on the water, whence is seen the whole line of buildings from San Marco to San Giorgio Maggiore, showing between these extreme points the ducal palace, the piazzetta, campanile, the library, and every point of interest in the line - and in order to give distance to these, some heavy boats are introduced near the spectator. This picture is in a very different feeling from antecendent Adriatic views. It is a return to that earlier view of nature upon which the reputation of the artist is based'.
In his correspondence, Ruskin noted that Cooke was the most curious mixture of conceit and humility that he had ever met. Perhaps it was this that led Cooke to sign this picture 'Il Lagunetto', in direct emulation of his artistic forebear Antonio Canal, 'Il Canaletto'. Was he inviting nineteenth century audiences to draw a comparison?