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Venice, Italy, has always been a special city. It was built on a group of small islands at the north end of the Adriatic Sea on the east coast of Italy. After many struggles, Venice became one of the major seaports and trading centers of the world during the Middle Ages. While people were able to walk around the city through small alleys and over bridges, much of the travel was by boat using the channels between the islands. This made it quite unlike any other city in the world, either before or since.

As time passed, Venice continued to look different from other cities. Its wealth and power gradually declined so that when Canaletto painted his pictures it had become more of a place where people went for vacations than a trading center.

The waterways between the Venetian islands were called canals and the banks of the canals were lined with buildings, from houses and shops to palaces and churches. The major canal of Venice was the Grand Canal and it appears in this painting. This picture, like many others by Canaletto, showed daily life in the city.

The Grand Canal is lined with buildings of all kinds of designs, many with shops at street level. Some of the buildings, such as the one in the left foreground, looks as though it is in need of painting because the plaster is peeling away from the walls. On the sunny side of the canal, some of the buildings have the shutters closed or awnings pulled out for protection against the strong sunlight, while on the shady side the shutters are open to let fresh air in. The buildings all have tiled roofs with dozens of chimneys sticking out. Today, the chimney pots are probably joined by a forest of television antennas.

The buildings make two varied walls on each side of the canal. However, it is on the water that we see much of the action taking place in this painting. It is full of boats of many kinds. Some are solid-looking barges used for carrying heavy objects like the large barrel in the closest boat on the left. Since the only way of moving boats then was by oars or sails, numbers of boats have their sails draped over the boats, perhaps to dry out in the sunshine.

Another kind of boat is the traditional boat used for carrying people; and numbers of them can be seen moored along the dock on the right. They are called gondolas and all have a distinctive decoration on the bow and many of them have a small cabin. The gondola being paddled down the center of the canal can be seen most clearly.

The buildings and the boats, as in all of Canaletto's work, are shown in great detail and very accurately. In addition, the artist almost always includes people going about their daily lives. This adds interest to his paintings by enabling viewers to look at the people and try and guess what they are doing and saying.


Antonio Canal, who was later known by the name Canaletto, grew up with art. His father was a scene painter for theaters in the Italian city of Venice, and young Antonio assisted his father from the time he was a child. But, apart from helping his father, nothing much is known about him until he was over 20 years of age, when he began to be recognized for the quality of his paintings of Venice. …