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An interior view of the Henry VII Chapel, Westminster Abbey
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About the item

This spectacular view of Henry VII’s chapel in Westminster Abbey, dating from the early 1750s, is one of Canaletto's rare depictions of an interior.  The artist captures with accuracy the magnificent Late Perpendicular style architecture and rich sculptural decoration for which the building is so justly famous. The picture shows off superbly the fan-vaulted roof soaring high overhead with its hanging pendants and delicate lattice work of carved stone tracery, which is the chapel's crowning glory (fig.1).  The poet and antiquarian John Leland (circa 1503-1552) referred to the chapel as the Orbis miraculum or the “wonder of the world.”1  This painting is notable for the spontaneity of the figures.  It has also been pointed out that the depiction of the architecture is typical of Canaletto’s finest style, executed with an application of two layers of paint; the first providing the background structure of the windows and the fan vaulting, and the second providing the white impasto highlights. Considered to be one of the supreme examples of Gothic architecture in England and a testament to the great patronage of the Tudors, the chapel was begun by Henry VII in 1503 as a shrine for Henry VI, whose canonization was expected, though ultimately did not occur.  The building accounts are now lost, but the architect is thought to have been either Robert Vertu I or Robert Janyns.  Henry VII died in 1507, leaving funds for the completion of the chapel, which was undertaken by Henry VIII and finished in circa 1512.  Henry VII and his wife Elizabeth of York are buried there in a tomb with recumbent gilt bronze effigies, of circa 1512-1518, by the Florentine sculptor Pietro Torrigiani.  Among other royals interred there are Elizabeth I and her half-sister Mary I; Mary, Queen of Scots and her son James I; Charles II; and William III and his wife Mary II.2  In 1725, when King George III reinstated the Order of the Bath, the building was officially designated as their chapel.  Another of Canaletto’s London views depicts the Knights Companion of the Order of the Bath in procession from Westminster Abbey to the House of Lords on 20 June 1749 (collection of the Dean and Chapter of Westminster Abbey).\nCanaletto first came to England in May of 1746, but already had a strong connection with that country long before his arrival.  In Venice he had firmly established himself, from the late 1720s, as the leading provider of Venetian vedute to the foreign tourists, most of whom were British, coming in a steady stream to visit the city.  One of his great patrons in Venice was Joseph Smith (circa 1674-1770) an English merchant who served as British Consul from 1744-60 and who eventually acted as his agent, brokering sales of his work to other British patrons.  His move to London after two decades of painting primarily Venetian views may have been prompted by a desire to explore new subject matter.  However, another reason may have been that the outbreak of the War of Austrian Succession in 1740 had discouraged English visitors from undertaking the Grand Tour, thereby reducing a large portion of his client base.  Whatever the reason, Canaletto found considerable success in England and, except for an eight-month return to Venice in 1750-51, remained there for nine years.\nIn the present work, Canaletto has chosen a viewpoint from an angle along the central nave of the chapel looking towards the tomb of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. The grille surrounding the tomb can be seen at the far end of the chapel.  Heraldic banners belonging to the Knights of the Order of Bath hang over the stalls and east end of the building.  The awe-inspiring architecture is the main focus, though the artist has included a few figures who serve to emphasize the scale and grandeur of the interior.  Interestingly, Canaletto has highlighted the monument to John Sheffield, 1st Duke of Buckingham (1647-1721), designed by Denis Plumière and executed by Peter Scheemakers and Laurent Delvaux (fig. 2), drawing our eye to that structure rather than to the tomb of Henry VII which is the central focus of the chapel.  Sheffield was a successful politician who was appointed Lord Privy Seal in 1702 by Queen Anne.  He was also a poet, patron of John Dryden and friend of Alexander Pope. In 1702-5, he built Buckingham House, on the site of the current Buckingham Palace, which was owned in Canaletto’s time by the Duke’s illegitimate son Sir Charles Sheffield.  It has been suggested that, perhaps, Canaletto was trying to attract the attention of this particular patron.3\n1.  In Commentari in Cygnea Cantio, 1545.\n2.  Henry VI for whom the chapel was originally conceived was, in the end, not interred there and is buried in St. George’s Chapel, Windsor Castle.\n3.  See C. Beddington, under Literature, p. 95.
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notes

Please note that the correct dimensions are: 29 1/4 by 25 5/8 in.; 74.3 by 65.1 cm.

medium

Oil on canvas

creator

Giovanni Antonio Canaletto Canal Canaletto

condition

The following condition report has been provided by Simon Parkes of Simon Parkes Art Conservation, Inc. 502 East 74th St. New York, NY 212-734-3920, simonparkes@msn.com, an independent restorer who is not an employee of Sotheby's. This painting is in beautiful condition. The canvas has an old glue lining and the texture is still attractive. The surface is stable. The painting is clean and varnished. When viewed under ultraviolet light, retouches are visible on the extreme right edge, in a few minute specks on the tiled floor beneath the two male figures and also in a handful of other very small dots on the tiled floor towards the group of figures at the back of the church. The only other retouching worthy of mention is in the dark colors in the largest arch on the right side. There is no abrasion to the fine details of the architecture and the condition is remarkable. There are areas of pigment that read strongly when viewed under ultraviolet light in the two figures on the left side and in the flags in the center and on the far left. However, none of these areas correspond to retouches and are all original to the artist. "This lot is offered for sale subject to Sotheby's Conditions of Business, which are available on request and printed in Sotheby's sale catalogues. The independent reports contained in this document are provided for prospective bidders' information only and without warranty by Sotheby's or the Seller."

dimensions

X 26 3/8 inches

exhibition

Possibly London, British Institution, 1857, no. 150 (lent by Martin F. Tupper); London, Guildhall Art Gallery, Canaletto in England, 10 June - 11 July 1959, no. 14; London, Dulwich Picture Gallery, Canaletto in England, A Venetian Artist Abroad, 1746-1755, 24 January - 15 April 2007, no. 20.

literature

H.F. Finberg, Canaletto in England, 1921, p. 69; W.G. Constable, Canaletto, London 1962, and later editions (1976 and 1989), vol. I, reproduced plate 80; vol. II, cat. no. 433, and under cat. no. 411; L. Puppi, L'Opera completa del Canaletto, Milan 1968, p. 114, cat. no. 276A; J. Hayes, Catalogue of the Oil Paintings in the London Museum, London 1970, p. 56; J.G. Links, Canaletto, the Complete Paintings, London 1981, cat. no. 225, reproduced; A. Corboz, Canaletto, Una Venezia Immaginaria, Milan 1985, vol. II, p. 714, cat. no. P400, reproduced; Sotheby's Art at Auction, 1996-1997, London 1997, left side frontispiece, reproduced in color; J.G. Links, A Supplement to W.G. Constable's Canaletto, London 1998, p. 40, cat. no. 433; C. Beddington, Canaletto in England, A Venetian Artist Abroad, 1746-1755, exhibition catalogue, New Haven 2006, pp. 94-95, cat. no. 20, reproduced.

provenance

Possibly Lord W...; Possibly Samuel Dickenson, Esq., East Smithfield; His sale, London, Christie's, 12 March 1774, lot 37 (sold with lot 38, Canaletto, A View of the Interior of King's College Chapel), for £6.11s to Captain Thompson; Possibly Martin F. Tupper, 1857; Possibly, anonymous sale, London, Christie's, 1858, for 63 Guineas to Pearce; With Arthur Tooth & Sons, London; From whom acquired by Ernest G. Kleinwort, Heaselands, Haywards Heath, Sussex, on 24 February 1947; By inheritance to his widow, Mrs. J.N. Kleinwort; By whose Estate sold, London, Sotheby's, 9 July 1997, lot 69; There acquired by the present collector.

consignmentDesignation

Property from the Collection of J.E. Safra

creator_nationality_dates

Venice 1697 - 1768





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