Canaletto, "Capriccio" with The Horses of San Marco in the Piazzetta, 1743
Oil on canvas, 108 x 129,5 cm
Royal Collection, Windsor
This painting is signed and dated 1743. It is one of the series of sopraporte that Canaletto painted on commission from Joseph Smith. The horses are normally positioned on the raised center section of the facade of the cathedral of San Marco. Canaletto has placed them on the forecourt, near Piazzetta, setting them on high pedistals and with a set of steps beneath.
The gilded bronze horses of San Marco are one of the great treasures of Venice. They are thought to be ancient, although their precise origin and date remains a matter of scholarly debate. It appears they were taken from Constantinople when the city was sacked by the Venetians in 1204.
In the 1740s the horses were above the loggia at the entrance to San Marco. They were only removed from this position in 1798 when Napoleon's troops overtook the city and were then taken to Paris, but returned to Venice in 1815.
The dramatic arrangement of these horses on pedestals is entirely fictional. It is possible that it is intended to convey the frustration felt by many at not being able to study the horses properly above the loggia. For example, the Neo-classical sculptor, Antonio Canova (1757-1822), suggested that they should be set either side of the entrance to the Doge's palace so that they could be seen to better advantage.
Source: Web Gallery of Art