Friday, December 29, 2006
A Short Walk in a Small City
Wednesday morning while I was listening to Morning Edition, a public radio non-commercial from a public-spirited supporter of my local public radio station informed me that the Canaletto in London show at the Yale Center for British Art would close on the 31st. Whoops! Tina and I changed our schedules and headed down to New Haven. The show was fascinating. My first reaction to the pictures you encounter on entry was to start giggling. I had to whisper about these large (40x60 inch?) canvases, "oh my goodness, they had oversharpening in the 18th century!" Canaletto's paintings have a count-every-blade-of-grass, realer-than-real rendering that reinforces the adage that if you want to please a client, give 'em detail, detail, detail. Little reproductions in books don't give you the flavor you get from seeing the originals. But he also has a wonderful sense of humor. Huge impressive palace and courtyard, with two servants beating a rug against a wall in the upper right corner. Impressive mansion and grounds, with wash hanging over a balcony. Parade of the Horse Guard in some fancy square, with a cartoonish fat man almost dead center. View of The City through one arch of an under-construction bridge, with a beautifully rendered bucket on a rope hanging, upper right.
And then there are the Cappricio paintings. Titles like "Imaginary Landscape with Palace," which is good enough as is, but the title doesn't hint at half of what's imaginary. I looked for unicorns, and then realized he's too subtle for that. Everything in the pictures is real and possible, or perhaps plausible is a better term, but everything is somehow off-kilter, skewed and crazy. Scholarly curatorial plaques in the last room explained Canaletto's sublime mastery of perspective, which went to the point that he employed multiple vanishing points in some of his panoramic compositions (but made them all converge on the same horizon line) to maintain drawing of buildings while rendering an impossible field of view. But the curator neglected to point out that one of the things that makes the Cappricios so whacky and wonderful is that he plays very fast and loose with vanishing points, disorientingly heading them every which way. Great fun. Wish I could do that with photographs.
On the way back to the parking lot, walking past the Yale living quarters with their faux-medieval castle walls, thinking of Caneletto, I noticed this: