The Campo Santi Giovanni e Paolo, after the Piazza San Marco the grandest and most important square in Venice, is seen here from the South, with the façade of the church of Santi Giovanni e Paolo, with Santa Maria dei Frari the largest Gothic church in the city, on the right. The focus of the view is on the Scuola di San Marco, one of the six major scuole (men's religious confraternities), begun in 1485 by Pietro Lombardo and Giovanni Buora and completed by Mauro Codussi ten years later. On the far right is Andrea del Verrocchio's famous equestrian statue of the condottiere Bartolommeo Colleoni, finished in 1496 and until 1866 the only outdoor public monument to anyone anywhere in the city. The Colleoni Monument dominates Luca Carlevarijs' engraving of a related view, plate 39 of his great series of prints Le Fabriche, e Vedute di Venetia ..., published in 1703. It was Canaletto, however, who established the standard composition of the subject in his two large canvases of the mid-1720s, that now in Dresden (Constable, op. cit., I, pl. 58; II, no. 305), presumably the picture recorded as having been purchased by the Imperial Ambassador at the public exhibition on Saint Roch's Day (16 August) 1725, and the subtly adjusted variant, showing the façade of the church at a slightly sharper angle, painted for Stefano Conti of Lucca and completed less than ten months later (ibid., I, pl. 58; II, no. 304). Michele Marieschi's engraving of a slightly more distant view, plate 15 of his Magnificentiores Selectioresque Urbis Venetiarum Prospectus published in 1741, disseminated the composition to a wider public, and it was to be particularly favoured by Bernardo Bellotto. The present painting is, however, the only occasion on which Canaletto returned to it in later years, the only other related work being a small canvas, datable to after 1755, showing only the three left hand bays of the Scuola, sold at Sotheby's, London, 8 July 1981, lot 10, and now in the collection of Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza (J. G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable's Canaletto, London, 1998, p. 32, no. 326*).
This painting and the view of The Piazza San Marco, looking towards the Procuratie Nuove and the Church of San Geminiano from the Campo di San Basso offered as the following lot, both sold by the 3rd Viscount Hampden in 1953, were originally components of a set of four pictures, along with two others still in the collection of Viscount Hampden, a view of The Grand Canal, looking North-West from the Palazzo Corner to the Palazzo Contarini dagli Scrigni and a view of The Piazzetta, looking West, with the Libreria (Constable, op. cit., nos. 193(a) and 69). The set, which clearly dates from the 1730s, the decade when Canaletto produced what is generally regarded as his most 'characteristic' work, would undoubtedly be better known had it not been hidden from public view. Only The Piazzetta, looking West, with the Libreria has ever been exhibited (Thomas Agnew and Sons Ltd., London, European Pictures from an English County, 28 June-27 July 1957, p. 26, no. 28, and Tate Gallery, London, In Celebration: The Art of the Country House, 11 November 1998 - 28 February 1999, p. 58, no. 61), and only that and The Piazza San Marco, looking towards the Procuratie Nuove and the Church of San Geminiano from the Campo di San Basso have ever been illustrated (the former in Corboz, op. cit., II, p. 631, no. P 222, and in the catalogue of the 1998-9 exhibition; the latter in Constable, op. cit., I, pl. 18, incorrectly captioned). No photograph is even known of The Grand Canal, looking North-West from the Palazzo Corner to the Palazzo Contarini dagli Scrigni.
The set was acquired by Thomas Brand (c. 1717-1770), who had inherited The Hoo, Kimpton, Hertfordshire, as an infant, was educated at Eton and Queen's College, Cambridge, and in 1741 settled down to the life of a Member of Parliament. Brand made two tours of Italy, in 1738-9 after leaving university and in 1754-5. This second visit was made following the death of his wife after only four years of marriage and the birth of two children. 'He travels again to dissipate his grief' wrote Horace Walpole, and it is known that Brand forsook social intercourse in order to concentrate on sightseeing (J. Ingamells, A Dictionary of British and Irish Travellers in Italy 1701-1800 compiled from the Brinsley Ford Archive, New Haven and London, 1997, p. 117). That Joseph Smith (c. 1674-1770), British Consul 1744-1760 and Canaletto's foremost patron and agent, must have acted as intermediary in the sale of the set to Brand is demonstrated not only by his retention of the preparatory drawings for the present painting (fig. a; K.T. Parker, The Drawings of Antonio Canaletto in the Collection of His Majesty the King at Windsor Castle, Oxford and London, 1948, p. 37, no. 40, fig. 21; Constable, op. cit., I, pl. 112; II, no. 613) and for the following lot (q.v., fig. a), both now at Windsor, but also by the existence of outline drawings by Antonio Visentini after the present painting, now in the Museo Correr, Venice (fig. b) and in the British Museum (fig. c). Those indicate that, as in four other cases (see ibid., I, p. 612, in later editions p. 671), the inclusion of an engraving of it in the 1742 edition of the Prospectus Magni Canalis Venetiarum, Visentini's great series of prints after paintings owned, or handled, by Joseph Smith, was contemplated, although it would seem that no engraving was ever executed.
Constable, observing that all four paintings are 'similar in size and technique', dates them to 'the earlier thirties' (ibid., under no. 69), but this is too early. While the Visentini drawings provide a terminus ante quem of 1742, a terminus post quem of c. 1734 is supplied by the new pavement of the Piazzetta shown in The Piazzetta, looking West, with the Libreria, as Dario Succi has pointed out (Succi, op. cit., pp. 266-7). On stylistic grounds a dating of circa 1738-9 seems likely (judging from transparencies), and is supported by two outside factors. Although Giles Waterfield states in the catalogue of the 1998-9 Tate Gallery exhibition (loc. cit.) that the set (which he, in fact, describes as a pair) was acquired by Brand on his second Grand Tour (1754-5), it seems improbable that it would have remained in Venice for fifteen years, and indeed there is no record of Brand having visited the Eastern side of Italy on his second visit. It seems far more likely that it was purchased or ordered on his first Grand Tour, when he is recorded in Padua on 5 October 1738 presumably on the way to - or from - Venice. Furthermore, at least two components of the set made such an impression on the young Bellotto as to strongly suggest that he watched them being painted on his uncle's easel. The Piazzetta, looking West, with the Libreria clearly provided the basis for Bellotto's depiction of the subject at Castle Howard, part of a series of views presumably commissioned by Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle (1684-1758) on his second Grand Tour, which took him to Venice in November 1738 (Succi, op. cit., pp. 266-7, no. 86, illustrated in colour p. 271). The composition of the present painting was to bear even richer fruit in the work of the young apprentice. Having slightly adapted it to his own taste by including more of the church on the right and less of the buildings on the Rio dei Mendicanti on the left, in a drawing in the Hessischen Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, signed and dated 8 December 1740 (S. Kozakiewicz, Bernardo Bellotto, London, 1972, II, pp. 25-6, no. 25, illustrated p. 22; Bleyl, loc. cit., no. 20, illustrated), he painted two versions of his own, in the Museum of Fine Arts, Springfield (Mass.), probably of 1740-1 (Kozakiewicz, op. cit., II, pp. 20 and 25, no. 24, illustrated p. 23), and in the National Gallery, Washington (ibid., II, p. 449, no. Z 256, illustrated p. 446; Bowron, op. cit., pp. 9-14, illustrated in colour, where dated to c. 1743-7).