The Rialto Bridge is shown from the north, in afternoon light, with on the left, the corner of the Cà Civran and the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. To the right are the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi and the Fabbriche Vecchie di Rialto. The view is taken from a point close to where many visitors to Venice stayed. The Piazza di San Marco is seen from the west, from a point near the Procuratie Nuove and approximately opposite the Campanile: the angle of the shadows implies a time in the middle of the day.
The pictures are from a series of four which were acquired by Marshal Schulenburg (see infra) and which remained together until 1924: the relative accessibility of the erstwhile companions, The Molo looking West (Seattle, Seattle Museum of Art; Rizzi, pl. 140) and The Piazzetta from the Water Front, formerly in the Los Angeles County Museum and now in a private collection (Rizzi, pls. 137-8), has meant that stylistic views have been expressed about these canvases rather than those under discussion. However, as Succi (p. 51) conclusively demonstrated, the Piazza San Marco must be of about 1727: the process of repaving the Piazza began in 1725, and was to be completed in 1728, but is shown by Carlevarijs in an intermediate stage that it would have reached in 1727; taken in conjunction with the 5 May 1737 Schulenburg inventory of pictures which are stated to have been acquired between 1727 and 1736, the evidence of the paving means that the series can be dated with considerable precision, and as a result be recognised as the last significant undertaking in the artist's long career. Within a year, in 1728, Carlevarijs was struck by paralysis and he died in 1730.
Carlevarijs was the first of the great Venetian vedutisti. His interest in the possibilities of Venetian topography had, no doubt, been quickened by his experience of the work of Vanvitelli, and the publication of his Le fabbriche e vedute di Venezia poste in prospettiva in 1703 marked his emergence in the field. A series of ambassadorial commissions and sets of views formerly at Stoneleigh (see Beddington, p. 21) and Shobdon mark Carlevarijs' development as vedutista. Inevitably visitors to Venice were drawn to the same subjects and Carlevarijs, for example, supplied a succession of views of the Piazza. But the Schulenburg commission shows that he was not content merely to repeat himself. The Piazza is shown from a different angle than in the ex-Stoneleigh (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Lehman Collection; Beddington, pl. 5) - the viewpoint of which is similar to, but at a different height from, that of the etching of the subject in the 1703 publication, no. 43 - or ex-Kiplin (Private collection, on loan to Cardiff, National Museum of Wales; Beddington, pl. 8) pictures: and, as his sparkling oil studies of figures in the Victoria and Albert Museum attest, Carlevarijs must have enjoyed varying the groups of patricians, bystanders and street vendors that animate his views, introducing for the Schulenburg canvas the group of performers on a stage to the left and a totally new cast of characters.
The Molo, the Piazzetta and the Piazza - subjects as we have seen of three of the Schulenburg pictures - were the central sights of Venice, its political and religious heart. Carlevarijs' ambassadorial commissions concentrated inevitably on the first, and the major series of canvases painted for tourists all celebrate, as it were, the same visual bias. Schulenburg's selection of the Rialto may have been suggested by the position besides this of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, the German merchants' warehouse best known to posterity for the truancy of its external decoration by Giorgione and Titian. The viewpoint is totally different from that of the two prints of the bridge in Carlevarijs' 1703 series and allowed the artist admirable scope for showing the picturesque traffic of the canal. It also had obvious visual possibilities, possibilities also expressed in the smaller version of the composition once in the du Chène de Vère collection Milan (Rizzi, fig. 162), which Rizzi thought to post-date the work under discussion, but which is, in some respects, closer to a related drawing in the Museo Correr, Venice (T. Pignatti, Disegni Antichi del Museo Correr di Venezia, Venice, 1980, no. 65).
What seems not to have been emphasised is that the viewpoint of Carlevarijs' Rialto corresponds very closely with that of Canaletto's somewhat earlier treatment of the view for the celebrated series painted in 1725 for the Lucchese Stefano Conti - who had two decades earlier ordered three of Carlevarijs' earliest topographical views. Canaletto's canvas, elaborated from a drawing in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford (Parker, II, no. 975), is ostensibly taken from an angle a little further to the left, so that three and part of a fourth of the stalls on the right side of the bridge are visible, the west front of the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi is not seen and the Frabbriche Vecchie are shown at a less sharp angle.
Many of Canaletto's views represent logical developments from compositions evolved by Carlevarijs whose success as a topographer may be thought to have inspired his own. Any assessment of the relationship between the two artists' treatments of the Rialto view must depend on the dating of the du Chène de Vère picture. If Rizzi's opinion that this followed the Schulenburg canvas is accepted, the debt may be to the younger artist and it should be remembered that the technical brilliance of the Conti picture does not mean that it is literally accurate: as Katherine Baetjer observed: 'There is no single viewpoint from which the buildings represented in this canvas can be seen in the relationship shown' (in the catalogue of the exhibition, Canaletto, New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1989, p. 88, under no. 8). If it is accepted that in the Schulenburg picture Carlevarijs paid homage to his younger more-than-rival, it is possible that his adoption of a marginally different hypothetical viewpoint, revealing less of the bridge, was intended, whether consciously or not, as a critique of the Conti work. An alternative earlier dating of the du Chène de Vère picture would establish that one of the most luminous of Canaletto's compositions - and one that would be echoed in turn by Guardi - was suggested by one by Carlevarijs of which the Schulenburg picture is the final, definitive variant.
One other aspect of the Schulenburg pictures calls for comment. Their format is that of a double square, the width of each canvas being twice its height. Carlevarijs had previously used this formula for the two even larger pictures supplied to the Duke of Manchester (Birmingham, City Art Gallery and The Hague; Rizzi, pl. 28-34) and for the views of the Molo and of the Piazza San Marco from the north in the Crawford Collection (Rizzi, pl. 93-9).
Johann Matthias, Count von der Schulenberg, who had commanded the forces of Saxony under Augustus the Strong - himself a determined collector of pictures - was appointed marshal of the Venetian armies in 1715 and remained in the service of the Republic until his death in 1747, by when he owned some 957 items, including sculpture. He was the greatest single patron of contemporary Venetian painters, owning notable groups of works by Piazzetta, the Ricci and Pittoni and of views by Canaletto, Marieschi and Bellotto (see Binion loc. cit.). The collection was kept in Schulenburg's Venetian residence, the Palazzo Loredan, whence, in 1736, the four pictures by Carlevarijs, valued at 1,000 ducats, the same figure as Canaletto's major Riva dei Schiavone (see below), were despatched to Berlin.
Schulenburg had hoped that his collection would be preserved in its entirety in his palace at Berlin, but by the 1760s sales were contemplated. In 1774 the English agent John Greenwood secured 125 pictures (see Binion, pp. 66-8). These were sold in the following year by his associate, James Christie, who had brought a new energy to the London auctioneering market. The sale included such masterpieces as Canaletto's Riva dei Schiavone (London, Sir John Soane Museum) and Marieschi's Courtyard of the Doges' Palace (Private Collection, sold most recently in these Rooms, 13 December 1996, lot 78). The Duke of Dorset obtained Giordano's Finding of Moses, which remains at Knole, while the 'Titian' of Scanderberg may be the portrait identified as of the latter which entered the Aufrere collection.
What remains puzzling is that although the four pictures of the series to which the present pair belong unquestionably correspond with those in the sale and remained together until 1924, these seem to have been sold to three different buyers. The buyer of the Rialto was recorded as Hays in the auctioneer's book: the late Lady Dorothy Lygon suggested he may have been the 'Haines' or 'Haynes', who was a very regular buyer at Christie's in the period 1767 - 97 and was perhaps a dealer. The following lot which may be the Piazza San Marco was secured by 'Barret', who appears regularly (spelt in various ways) between 1769 and 1797. The Seattle Molo was bought by Fairfield, who bought twelve other pictures at Christie's between 1774 and 1779, and who presumably secured the final lot, either the Piazzetta or the Piazza San Marco, after this had been bought in. One can only speculate as to the circumstances in which the series was reconstituted.