Ippolito CAFFI

(Belluno 1809 – Battle of Lissa 1866)

The Grand Canal in Venice with Santa Maria della Salute, c. 1842

Oil on canvas, 47 x 60.9 cm.
Signed bottom right: CAFFI





The imposing dome of Santa Maria della Salute emerges from a purplish fog that is gradually lifting, dissolving in the early morning sunshine as the sun timidly casts its first rays on the buildings and waters of the Grand Canal. The warm light of dawn spreads out, chasing away the dark, while a clear and limpid blue sky begins to form in the distance. The first rays of the sun strike the canal with its host of boats and figures and the water embraces them, allowing itself to be pierced by them and reflecting them as it changes its colour from murky grey into a sharp, bright green. This is the wonderful scene depicted in The Grand Canal in Venice with Santa Maria della Salute, a hitherto unpublished painting which, in terms of its painterly quality, of its skilled, emotional depiction of its detail and its figures, and of its flowing brushwork embellished by rapid, airy strokes and light velature, is unquestionably one of the most significant and poetic works in Ippolito Caffi's entire output on a Venetian theme. 

The careful distribution of colour coupled with the masterly handling of shadow and backlight in the foreground enhance the luminosity of the background and draw the eye into the early light of dawn and into those wonderful reflections on the water. And it is that same sharp yet timid light that strikes the mast of a crewless ship from the side, revealing its Moorish windows, warming the coloured stone of the warm yellow and pink palazzi, lending substance to the bluish sun blinds on their façades and, last but not least, surprising the city's early-risers. A gondolier crosses the Grand Canal in the distance, while men seem to be moving about on a group of boats that appear to have been tied together, laden with goods, and elegant gentlemen sporting top hats and holding walking sticks are waiting for someone or something on the quayside.

This picture can take pride of place among the works that Caffi painted between 1840 and 1850, in which he explores the "repertoire of most varied subjects: fog in cities, eclipses, snowfalls, fireworks, and festivities by night and by day" (Pittaluga 1971, p.47) that served to present a different approach to the Venetian veduta. In this work, the composition and structure of the scene plunge us without hesitation into the cycle of paintings closest to ours in terms both of its theme and of its artistic character, namely the series of Views of the Grand Canal in the snow which are unanimously held to rank amongst his masterpieces and in which Caffi alone has succeeded in the masterly rendering in paint of a sense of intense participation in the natural event, of attention to atmosphere, of the modulation of light, of the sense of silence, and of the suspended mood that envelops the scene and the figures depicted.

Numerous versions are known of his Views of the Grand Canal in the snow (see the bibliography below), but we shall only mention here that they were painted throughout the 1840s, thus revealing the extent to which Caffi felt at home with his subject matter, that all the versions are of the highest quality, and that the first series can identified as the one dated 1841 and now in the Museo di Belluno. It is very difficult to establish the exact chronological sequence of our versions, but we should stress that even though the perspective of the composition may appear to be the same in the various versions, the thing that changes, apart from the positions of the boats and the figures, is the way in which the scenes are lit, and also the "viewpoint", which draws in or moves out like a camera zooming in on, or away from, its subject. And the aspect that is characteristic of the Belluno painting is precisely this smoky, foggy sky in movement, this attention on the "close-up" approach to the scene's composition and to the daily life being played out in it.

The atmosphere, the perspective, the position of the boats and the figures, the privileged viewpoint and the church of Santa Maria della Salute in the background, closing the scene with the panache of a stage set, all suggest that this previously unpublished work belongs precisely to this period, allowing us to argue with a fair degree of conviction that the painting may be close in date to that in Belluno, thus falling somewhere between 1842 and 1845. 

Caffi I., Lezioni di prospettiva pratica, Santarelli, Rome 1854;
Ippolito Caffi in “Gazzetta di Venezia”, 30 October 1866;
Mikelli V., Ippolito Caffi. Venezia degli Italiani, in “Strenna veneziana”, Venice 1867;
Avon Caffi G., Un pittore soldato del Risorgimento, in “Ardita”, March 1921;
Mancini E., Lettere inedite di Ippolito Caffi, in “Annuario 1925/26 del R. Istituto Magistrale Giustina Renier”, Belluno 1925-26;
Avon Caffi G., Il  pittore Ippolito Caffi, da "Rivista di Venezia", June 1931;
Avon Caffi G., Il pittore Ippolito Caffi,  in “Rivista Venezia”, June 1931, pp. 195-203;
Damerini G., Un pittore a Venezia perito a Lissa, in “Gazzetta del Popolo”, 23 August 1931;
De Grassi M., Ippolito Caffi, in “Gazzetta di Venezia”, 14 May 1942;
Somaré E. (a cura di), Ippolito Caffi, exhibition catalogue, Modena 1949;
Bianchi, E., Sulle Quattro prospettive esposte dal ca. Ippolito Caffi in queste Sale del Ridotto, in Gazzetta Ufficiale di Venezia”, 13 May 1963;
Comemo-Gerstenbrand L., Ippolito Caffi, Venice 1966;
Fiocco G., Un maestro solitario: Ippolito Caffi, in “Il Gazzettino”, 29 July 1966;
Avon Caffi G., Ippolito Caffi: 1809-1866, Amicucci, Padova 1967;
Perocco G. (a cura di), Ippolito Caffi,exhibition catalogue, (Venice 1966), Fabbri, Milan 1967;
Pittaluga M., Il pittore Ippolito Caffi, Neri Pozza Editore, Vicenza 1971;
Masciotta M., Pittaluga M., Ippolito Caffi, Vicenza 1971, in “Antichità Viva”, 1, 1972, pp. 67-68;
Perocco G., (curated by), Ippolito Caffi 1809 – 1866: raccolta di 154 dipinti, exhibition catalogue, Marsilio Editore, Venice 1979;
De Biasi M., Giuseppe Avon Caffi, in “Ateneo Veneto”, CLXXI, 22, 1-2, 1984, pp. 325-326;
Scotton F., Ippolito Caffi, Viaggio in Oriente 1843 – 1844, exhibition catalogue (3 July – 15 September 1988; Comune di Venezia, Assessorato alla Cultura, Mestre, Istituto di Cultura “S. Maria delle Grazie”), Arsenale Editrice, Venice 1988; 
Magnani F., see entry for Caffi Ippolito in La pittura…, 1990, pp. 723-724;
Romanelli G.D. (curated by) Caffi. Luci del Mediterraneo, Belluno, Palazzo Crepadona 1 October 2005 - 22 January 2006; Rome, Palazzo Braschi 15 February - 2 May 2006;
Scarpa, A., Ippolito Caffi: dipinti di viaggio tra Italia e Oriente; Venice, Marsilio, 2015;
Peretti F., Ippolito Caffi, De Luca editori d’arte, Rome 2016;
Scarpa A., Ippolito Caffi. Tra Venezia e Oriente (1809 - 1866 : la collezione dei musei civici di Venezia), exhibition catalogue (28 May – 20 November 2016,  Museo Correr, Venezia), Marsilio editore, Venice 2016