Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Canaletto’s perspective

The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg is one of the largest and oldest museums in the world.  It was founded by Catherine the Great in 1764 and occupies 6 buildings, including the famous Winter Palace.

It houses many great paintings, including Reception of the French Ambassador in Venice, by the Venetian painter Canaletto (1697 - 1768).  Many people like to check out a famous trick of perspective applied in the painting - the painting appears to change as the viewer move from one side to the other. 

Looking at the painting from the right, Palazzo Ducale (Doge’s Palace) dominates the painting, taking up more than one half of the painting.  As the viewer moves gradually to the left, the palace seems to get smaller and smaller.  Finally, as one looks at the painting from the left, the palace shrinks down to only about one-third of the painting, while the boats on the left seem most prominent.

This is due to the now well-known effect of perspective - objects further away from us appear to be smaller.  When the viewer is on the right side, the palace is closest to the viewer, hence it appears the largest.  And the opposite is true when the viewer is one the left.  At the time when the painting was make, it was still a novel idea and not popularly understood.

I wish I could have spent more time in the museum.

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