From Warsaw to Venice, a masterpiece by Bernardo Bellotto guests at the Cini Foundation


A masterpiece by Bernardo Bellotto arriving from the Royal Castle Museum in Warsaw i.e. the painting "Warsaw, Church of the Holy Cross" from 1778, comes on loan to the Cini Foundation as part of the Guest at the Palace exhibition, July 15 to October 15, 2023.

From Warsaw to Venice: a masterpiece by Bernardo Bellotto (Venice, 1721 - Warsaw, 1780), arriving from the Royal Castle Museum in Poland’s capital, namely the canvas known as Warsaw, Church of the Holy Cross of 1778, comes on loan to the Cini Foundation as part of the Guest at the Palace exhibition, from July 15 to October 15, 2023. It is an important testimony to the lively activity in Europe of the great Venetian vedutista, of his curious gaze, capable of investigating the life of the cities he visited; so meticulous as to make Bellotto a passionate and sensitive chronicler of the European civilization of the time, a master of realism, of dramatic luministic layout, of refined architectural knowledge. Characteristics evident in his rendering of the Baroque facade of the Church of the Holy Cross, one of Warsaw’s most important churches, the protagonist of a scene populated with light and teeming with life.

A nephew and pupil of Giovanni Antonio Canal, from whom he inherited the nickname “Canaletto,” Bernardo Bellotto differs from his master in a more analytical realism that intensified during the very years when, invited to European courts, he produced images of immense historical value: first in Dresden, where he resided from 1762 to 1766, then in the Warsaw of the last king of Poland, Stanislaus II Augustus Poniatowski, marked by profound social conflict, where extreme wealth and desperate poverty coexisted, the capital of a country in serious political decline but pulsating with life. Warsaw itself was to be the last residence of the artist, who died here on November 17, 1780.

Engrossed in the multifaceted charm of Polish civilization, Bellotto is able to provide an accurate account of the variegated eighteenth-century society and to represent, at the same time, a historical documentation of the city, its palaces, so much so that the painting now an exceptional guest of Palazzo Cini, served as a model for the reconstruction of the church of Santa Croce, destroyed after the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. Together with the canvas made in pendant depicting the Sacramentine Church, the work was located in the Senatorial Antechamber of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, famous as the “Canaletto Room,” from late 1777.Two views of Warsaw inextricably linked to the history of Poland until the twentieth century: remaining in the Canaletto Hall until 1807, they passed to Prince Jozef Poniatowski, a heroic freedom fighter for his homeland, only to be requisitioned by Tsar Nicholas I in retaliation for the Warsaw Uprising of 1830-1831; in Russia they remained until the Riga Pact of 1922 and then returned to the Royal Castle where, in 1939 they were confiscated by the Nazi regime and taken to Germany; recovered in 1945 and placed in the National Museum (the Royal Castle had been razed to the ground by German bombs) they were used as a documentary source for the reconstruction of the city’s historic center. In 1984 Bellotto’s paintings reentered the Canaletto Room in the reconstructed castle.

The work originated at the time when Bernardo Bellotto (from early 1767) was in the service of King Poniatowski. The artist notes in his recollections, on the date of 1778, the delivery to the court of: “Two Piccolli one from the Church of the Most Holy Sacrament of Sità Nova and the other from S. Croce”; the two pendants, united by the presence of Baroque churches of the French conventual orders and lively market scenes (the Church of the Holy Cross, i.e., the host of the Cini Palace, and the Church of the Sacramentine), are among the last of the cycle of twenty-six views of Warsaw and the royal residence of Wilanów: large, medium, and small, painted between 1768 and 1780, they are placed beginning in late 1777 in the Senatorial Antechamber of the Royal Castle in Warsaw, famous as the “Canaletto Room.” This is the third major cycle of city views created by the Venetian artist on his European journey, following the Dresden cycle, commissioned between 1747 and 1758 by Augustus III, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony, and the Vienna cycle, executed in 1758-1760 for Maria Theresa, Empress of Austria.

The powerful Baroque facade of the Church of the Holy Cross dominates Krakowskie Przedmiescie (Kraków’s Suburb) bustling thoroughfare, the last stretch of the road connecting the two royal residences, the Wilanów Palace and the castle in the Old Town. The church, one of Warsaw’s most important, the scene of state celebrations (in 1764 part of the coronation ceremony of Stanislaus Augustus was held there) had been founded in the 15th century and in 1653 donated by Queen Marie Louise of Gonzaga-Nevers, wife of two kings of Poland, Ladislaus IV and John II Casimir, to the order of missionary friars of St. Vincent de Paul. Plundered and deteriorated the old building during the Swedish invasion (1655-1660), the new main body was built in 1682-1696 by the architect of the royal court, Giuseppe Simone Bellotti, a native of Valsolda. In 1725-1737 the two-story, Baroque-style facade with its two towers and semicircular staircase was raised, a design by Ticino architect Giuseppe Fontana, perfected and finished by his son Giacomo a decade before Bellotto’s arrival in Warsaw. The church was badly damaged during the 1944 uprising and rebuilt in 1945-1953, partly according to this painting by Bellotto.

A dense row of aristocratic palaces lines the street with, to the right, the facade of the Hospital of San Rocco, founded in 1707. Prominent among the palaces in the light facing the church is the gateway to the courtyard of the Kazimierz Palace, assigned by King Poniatowski’s will to the Corps of Cadets, and, since 1816, with ups and downs, the seat of the University of Warsaw; the gate, crowned by a large globe, had been erected in 1732 on the commission of Augustus II the Strong, King of Poland and Elector of Saxony. The neighboring palace, with balcony, belonged to King Poniatowski’s father; farther down the street, where the street narrows, is the boundary wall of the Lubomirski Palace and the scaffolding on the facade of the Carmelite church, then under construction, the subject of the artist’s last painting, delivered to the court in 1780.

Bellotto, a master of the dramatic luministic layout, exercises his impetuous virtuosity here with the swirl of modulated shadows under a cloud-laden sky; he leaves the church façade in tenuous shadow, illuminating the details of the sculptural decoration of the staircase, destroyed as early as 1794, during the Warsaw riots, and replaced in 1818 by a design by Christian Piotr Aigner. The extended shadow in the foreground alludes to the presence of the church of the Observant Dominicans, which no longer exists: this is where the view is taken, as the catalog of the royal collection(Vüe de Fauxbourg de Cracovie, prise de l’église de Dominicains) states at number 441; the same number, in red, marks the canvas. Among the citizens, nobles in Polish and foreign costumes, ladies, knights in carriages, Jews, peasants with their wagons, merchants, all Polish society parading in front of the church of Santa Croce, Bellotto does not omit to depict in the foreground three Dominican friars and near the church the two missionaries.

The construction methods and technique are those of his youth, with the preparatory brush drawing in brown color, ruler in the main construction lines, the delicate incisions in the fresh paint with a sharp point, outlining the windows of the houses and letting the light slip over the pillars of the church, the walls formed with overlapping layers of color. It is the density of the color that changes, becoming softer and more full-bodied, richly impastoed in the masterful final touches that define the details, in the architecture and figures, especially those in light. As with all paintings of the Polish period, no preparatory drawings are preserved, although numerous sketches must have been made, with the camera ottica for the architectures and from life for the figures.

Thanks to Assicurazioni Generali, the Gallery’s main partner since its reopening in 2014 and an institutional supporter of the Giorgio Cini Foundation for many years , the exhibition season, as mentioned, will continue until October 15, 2023.

Guest at the Palace is included in the visit to the Cini Foundation. Hours: daily, except Tuesdays (closing day), 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tickets: full 10 euros; reduced 8 euros for groups over 8, children 15-25, over 65, Italian Touring Club members, Coop members, ALI members; reduced 7 euros for Dorsoduro Museum Mile ticket holders, Peggy Guggenheim Collection ticket holders, Palazzo Grassi - Punta della Dogana, Gallerie dell’Accademia, Guggenheim Voucher holders, Generali Voucher holders, Giorgio Cini Foundation Guided Tours Voucher holders, members of the Su e Zo per i Ponti convention; reduced ?5 for Venice City Council residents, Guggenheim members, U.E. of the faculties of architecture, conservation of cultural heritage, educational sciences, enrolled in degree courses in literature or literary subjects with an archaeological, historical-artistic focus of the faculties of literature and philosophy, enrolled in the Academies of Fine Arts, students who have joined the government initiative 18App; free for (Cini Ambassadors of the Giorgio Cini Foundation, minors under 15 (minors must be accompanied), ICOM (International Council of Museums) Members, disabled people accompanied by a family member or caregiver, accredited journalists with badges, Assicurazioni Generali employees, accredited Venice guides, MySpecialVenice Card holders. Information: www.cini.it

From Warsaw to Venice, a masterpiece by Bernardo Bellotto guests at the Cini Foundation
From Warsaw to Venice, a masterpiece by Bernardo Bellotto guests at the Cini Foundation


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