Luca Carlevarijs is rightly regarded as the first of the great Venetian vedutiste of the eighteenth century, and it was his success in securing a sustained clientèle for views of Venice in the opening decades of the century that set the pattern that the careers of Canaletto, Bellotto, Marieschi and Guardi were, in many respects, to follow.
Carlevarijs painted a series of canvasses of the entry of foreign ambassadors on the Molo, which clearly acted as catalysts for securing commissions for visitors. He well understood that the sights that would most appeal to these were those most associated with the parade of Venetian life, and the Piazzetta, at the very hub of the city, was one of his key subjects. It is seen from the Bacino from much the same angle in the wider panorama formerly in the Fano collection, Milan (Rizzi, 1967, fig. 51-3) and in an even more extended view in the Lehman? collection, New York (ibid., fig. 88), as well as the composition that extends to the right to show the whole of the Ducal Palace from the series commissioned for Kiplin Hall, Yorkshire (ibid, figs. 113-4). More closely related to the Ashburnham picture are canvasses in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, no. (ibid., figs. 137-8) and a New York private collection (ibid., fig. 139) in which steps are similarly used to define the foreground of the composition. The Los Angeles picture is taken from a viewpoint somewhat to the left, that in New York from one slightly to the right, so that the Torre dell' Orologio is partly obscured by the column. A smaller picture, from a position further to the left so that the spectator sees the length of the arcade of the Libreria on the left, but only five bays of that of the Ducal Palace was in the Palkse collection, Naples (ibid., fig. 142).
Topography was Carlevarijs' major concern, but he knew how important a part its varied inhabitants made to the scene. His oil studies and drawings of individual figures and of groups of figures are eloquent of the artist's preoccupations in this regard.
The 2nd Earl of Ashburnham, who succeeded his father at the age of thirteen in 1737, was on his Grand Tour, with his tutor Edward Clarke, in 1745, and is known to have attended a banquet given there by Lord Holderness, the British ambassador, in February. On 6 April he was in Padua, and the following September he was attacked by the smallpox in Florence, but recovered. He did not visit Rome, because Clarke's brother was associated with the court of Prince James Edward Stuart, the 'Old Pretender'. The Ashburnham family accumulated what was by any standards a remarkable collection, and the 2nd Earl was unquestionably a collector on a very considerable scale, buying, for example, the entire collection of Humphry Morice - which included a Canaletto secured by his uncle, Sir William Morice, on or after a tour of 1729-30 - after his death in 1785. Two notebooks, respectively begun in 1760 and 1793, record the development of Ashburnham's collection, and establish that he was an active purchaser in the London saleroom from 1754: this picture is listed in the notebook of 1760, which covers purchases of between 1754 and 1786.