Field Marshal Count Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg (1661-1747) became field marshal and commander in chief of the forces of the Venetian Republic in 1715. His defence of Corfu against the Turks in 1715-1716 made him a hero to the Venetians, who erected a statue in his honour and granted him a life pension. He established himself at Palazzo Loredan near San Trovaso in Venice. There in 1724, at the age of sixty-three, he found himself in possession of a group of eighty-eight paintings, mainly from the collections of the Dukes of Mantua, which were ceded to him by a dealer named Giovanni Battista Rota who had defaulted on a loan. This awakened in the Marshal a voracious appetite for collecting and in the remaining two decades of his life he amassed over nine hundred and fifty pictures. Ably assisted by his advisors, first Pittoni and then Piazzetta, Schulenburg acquired works by almost all the leading Venetian painters of his day. His purchases accelerated in the 1730s and in 1735 he began to send regular shipments to his estates in Germany. A bachelor, he bequeathed the whole of his vast collection to his nephew with the request that it be preserved intact. About 150 pictures, including many of the finest, were dispersed at Christie's in 1775 (12-13 April). These included one of Canaletto's greatest masterpieces, The Riva degli Schiavoni, looking West from S. Biagio (Sir John Soane's Museum, London), Marieschi's Rialto Bridge from the North with the Arrival of the Patriarch Francesco Antonio Correr (National Trust, Osterley Park) and the Courtyard of the Doge's Palace, sold in these Rooms on 13 December 1996, major pictures by Piazzetta at Cologne and Chicago, and exceptional works by Ceruti, Pittoni, Ricci and Carlevarijs. More paintings have been sold in London auctions since 1982. Schulenburg's activities as a patron and collector are, particularly well documented by papers and inventories now in the Niedersächsisches Staatsarchiv at Hannover and the collection can to a large extent be reconstructed (see A. Binion, op. cit.).
Schulenburg's iconography has been examined by Binion. Rigaud's half-length portrait is at Brunswick and outstanding portrait drawings by Piazzetta are in the Castello Sforzesca, Milan and at Chicago: a portrait by Antonio Guardi is in the Ca' Rezzonico, Venice (Binion, figs. 1, 9, 10 and 12). A second equestrian portrait, by Bartolommeo Nazzari and Simonini, the head of which was retouched by Ceruti, is lost. Simonini was the leading Venetian battle painter of the early eighteenth century, and was a natural choice as collaborator for the two portraits of the outstanding soldier in the Venetian service. Portraits by Nogari are unusual and this is unquestionably the most ambitious: a minor payment to the artist 'per saldo delle sue fatture del ritratto di S.E.' was made on 6 June 1737 (Binion, p. 154).