The Canaletto View: Vienna Seen from the Belvedere

The Canaletto View, Upper Belvedere, 29 June to 14 October 2018

Gerhart Frankl, Blick vom Belvedere auf Wien (Landschaft I)
Gerhart Frankl, Blick vom Belvedere auf Wien (Landschaft I)
The Canaletto View is probably the most famous vista of the city and has fascinated people and inspired artists for centuries. Vienna Seen from the Belvedere is the original name of the painting by Bernardo Bellotto, called Canaletto. Here, at the very place where it was created, this exhibition examines the history of the painting and draws comparisons with other depictions and contemporary visualizations.
Vienna Seen from the Belvedere was commissioned by Maria Theresa in around 1759/60. In the years following the last Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683, a series of political and military successes triggered a building boom in the city. In this work, the artist impressively captured
the many magnificent High Baroque buildings commissioned by Maria Theresa and her predecessors.
Over the following centuries, many other artists immortalized Vienna from the same vantage point. There are some considerable differences between these depictions. They reflect power relations but also the mood of society in general or the painters themselves. The earliest
response to Canaletto’s work was painted by Carl Schütz after the Belvedere garden was opened to the public in 1777. It was from a series of fifty Vienna views published by imperial privilege at Artaria Verlag. This was followed slightly later by another view by Franz Karl Zoller.
Both pictures were widely known and frequently copied.
In around 1900, the view from the Upper Belvedere became the capital’s iconic motif in the illustrated volumes about Vienna that were published in increasing number at the time.
Koloman Moser, Tina Blau, Carl Moll – all these artists painted their own version of the Canaletto View.
After the end of the Second World War, the motif became politically charged once again. In 1945, the photographer Otto Croy showed the destroyed park inhabited by emaciated grazing livestock. After returning from exile in September 1947, Gerhart Frankl explored the
devastated Belvedere garden and the view of the city in a series of sketches and paintings.
Finally, after the Austrian State Treaty was signed at the Upper Belvedere on 15 May 1955, the view again became politically symbolic. A later depiction countered this significance: In 1967, Kiki Kogelnik showed her tongue-in-cheek figure from the series Hangings in the Belvedere park, tapping into the subversive potential of the Canaletto View.
At the exhibition these views will be juxtaposed with present-day architectural images – like renderings and visualizations of building projects – demonstrating a common thread with paintings such as Canaletto’s work. Wiener Wolkenbügel, a design by the architectural studio Coop Himmelb(l)au, features among these. This was submitted for the Heumarkt project competition and, in anticipation of being rejected, can be seen as a deliberately provocative architectural statement.
The Canaletto View is often used as a benchmark in urban planning decisions and the discussion surrounding the Heumarkt project is no exception.
“The exhibition does not pass judgement on new building projects but is an art-historical presentation of the changes and continuities the Canaletto View has undergone through the course of history,” said Stella Rollig, CEO of the Belvedere.
Curator Markus Fellinger adds: “By tracing the view back through history, it clearly emerges how city views – now and in the past – are used to choreograph urban space. This applies both to historical vedute and digital renderings.”
Canaletto’s painting can be seen only indirectly at the exhibition as its fragile condition prevents it from being removed from the Kunsthistorisches Museum. But thanks to a media installation it still features in the Belvedere’s show. The exhibition includes a webcam live broadcast from the Kunsthistorisches Museum’s picture gallery and this can be compared to another live image showing the scene from Canaletto’s viewpoint today. Whereas time stands still in the painting and the situation is conserved, there is perpetual motion in the live image of today’s scene, although some aspects remain unchanged. This is not the first time that the Belvedere has worked with the young start-up company ARTIVIVE. Together with the curator, they designed a new level of visual exploration for this exhibition. An app using augmented reality gives us a digital insight into how city views are visualized and exploited.
The exhibition includes works by Wolfgang Wilhelm Prämer, Salomon Kleiner, Carl Schütz, Rudolf von Alt, Wilhelm Burger, Tina Blau, Carl Moll, Gerhart Frankl, Otto Rudolf Schatz, Edgar Jené, Kiki Kogelnik, and other artists.