The Rialto Bridge from the North by SILVESTRE, Israël
(b. 1621, Nancy, d. 1691, Paris)

The Rialto Bridge from the North

Royal Collection, Windsor

The main Venetian veduta painters, Canaletto, Marieschi and Guardi, chose a number of viewpoints of the Rialto Bridge found in the work of their predecessors. One view of the Rialto Bridge from the north enjoyed great popularity, in which the structure is largely hidden behind the massive Palazzo dei Camerlenghi in the bend of the Grand Canal. Probably Carlevaris was the first to use this composition in a painting. Infinitely more suggestive than that artist's somewhat oppressive agglomeration of buildings, however, is Canaletto's earliest version of the motif, with its dramatic concentration of light in wide bands. The prototype, however, is by the Frenchman Israël Silvestre (1621—1691), whose work in this area scholars have hardly touched.

Between 1630 and 1650 Silvestre, a graphic artist-topographer, travelled widely in France and Italy, and later recorded the countless sights he had seen along the way. His impressions of Venice are captured in fourteen etchings and at least one drawing, incorporating largely recognizable topography such as the Ducal Palace, San Marco and various other churches in an otherwise imaginary context that effectively evokes the atmosphere of the city. The etching he made of the Rialto Bridge from the north, for instance, is a faithful rendition of the bridge and the Palazzo dei Camerlenghi — in the caption re-christened 'la prison de Venise' — whereas the left background is imaginary. The eighteenth century kept the composition but transformed the scene into a true veduta.