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Venice in Yorkshire
Chris Ridgway
By Dr Chris Ridgway  //  Mon 11th July 2016
Curator, History, House, Collections
Canaletto
In the autumn of 1738 Henry Howard, 4th Earl of Carlisle, swapped the grey skies of Yorkshire for the translucent beauty of Venice, as he embarked on his second Grand Tour to Italy. Earlier in the year he had inherited Castle Howard, following the death of his father, Charles Howard, who had been responsible for the building of this Baroque masterpiece with the architects Sir John Vanbrugh and Nicholas Hawksmoor.
As a wealthy man in his forties, Carlisle’s twelve-month tour was a cultural odyssey and a shopping expedition, during which he acquired a vast range of antique busts and sculptures, bronzes, coins and medals. But he was an enthusiast for the contemporary as well as the ancient. In Rome he commissioned six capriccios, or fantasy views, of the ruins from Paolo Pannini, and in Venice he purchased dozens of views of the floating city from the leading artists of the day, Canaletto, Bernardo Bellotto, and the younger Michele Marieschi.

Most Grand Tourists divided their time between Rome and Venice; the ancient capital was the centre for the masculine pursuits of learning and archaeology, whereas ‘La Serenissima’, on the shores of the famous lagoon, was seen as a sensuous and enchanting destination. Here wealthy travellers would mix with elite society, enjoy carnival or masked balls, and spend their time in relaxed enjoyment.

This was Carlisle’s second visit to Venice and he was keen to capture the memory of the city with its waterways, bustling piazzas, and elaborate ceremonies. He returned to Castle Howard at the end of 1739, and during the next decade a flood of treasures arrived in Yorkshire, as he recreated the flavour of Italy inside the house in ways that mirrored the transformation of the landscape outdoors, which was filled with classical monuments. He assembled one of the largest collections of Venetian view paintings in England, some forty pictures in all. A large number were displayed in a dedicated room, the Canaletto Room, but this famous collection has gradually reduced in size over the years. Some were sold at the end of the 19th century, a handful were burnt in the calamitous fire of 1940, and many were sold by the family trustees in 1944, who believed that Castle Howard would never again be lived in by the family. Today three spectacular pieces remain, all firmly attributed to Canaletto’s talented nephew Bellotto. The view of the Campo San Stefano does not depict any canal, instead it is a view of an empty square which is instantly recognisable to any visitor today, so little has it changed. The large picture of the Bucintoro on Ascension Day shows the Doge of Venice about to set sail in his barge from in front of his palace, as part of the annual ceremony when a ring was thrown into the waters of the lagoon as a token of thanks to the sea for preserving the city.
Castle Howard
And now in June 2016 a special loan from the National Gallery in London means that this view is complemented by a large scene of a regatta on the Grand Canal painted by Canaletto in 1735. Hanging in an adjacent room, visitors can now compare two spectacular views of the city, each one teeming with tiny detail – figures in gondolas, people leaning out of windows, standing on balconies, or milling around the quaysides. These views are a reminder of how colourful and vibrant life was, and still is, in this magical city, and also that the love of Venice endures at Castle Howard three centuries after the first arrival so many splendid paintings.

Canaletto, Venice: A Regatta on the Grand Canal, is on display at Castle Howard until September 2016. It is a reciprocal loan from the National Gallery who have borrowed Castle Howard’s famous painting by Gainsborough, Girl with Pigs, for the exhibition, 'Painters’ Paintings: From Freud to Van Dyck.'