Royal Collection Trust: Canaletto did not trace his drawings

It has been revealed that the Italian painter Giovanni Antonio Canal, also known as Canaletto, did not trace his works as previously believed and in fact sketched them with a pencil and ruler.
Back in 1771, the artist’s biographer wrote that he used a camera obscura to trace some of his key art works – a claim that has been disputed by art enthusiasts for centuries.
However, according to the Royal Collection Trust and thanks to the latest infrared technology, it has been confirmed that the works were instead sketched by Canaletto.
This revelation comes following a first scientific examination by the institutions, analysing the artist’s works – a collection that is one of the largest in the world, containing over a third of his surviving pieces.
According to the Trust, the original marks made by the artist categorically prove that Canaletto did not trace the works using camera tricks.
In May, Canaletto’s original drawings and some of the infrared images of his most intriguing works will go on display at The Queen’s Gallery in Buckingham Palace, it has been reported.
A spokesman for the Royal Collection Trust commented: “Canaletto is long thought to have used a camera obscura to achieve topographical accuracy in his work. A precursor of the modern camera, the device enabled artists to trace an inverted image of a view formed by rays of light passing through a small hole in a box.”
While infrared photography is often used on paintings, it rarely works on paper. However, in this instance it allowed conservators to see the original markings on the artist drawings of the Grand Canal in Venice.
The Royal Collection Trust found that the technique used by the artist was pencil on carbon paper. This was revealed by the infrared and showed the original sketch underneath the final pen and ink masterpiece.
Rosie Razzall, curator of prints and drawings, said: “We thought it would be fruitful to look at it under infrared and we were just amazed by the results. You get this image of Canaletto’s meticulous underdrawing, as he really, really carefully plans out the sheets with pencil and ruler.
“It’s fascinating from that point of view, and also for its wider significance. It shows very clear that he wasn’t using a camera obscura to make these drawings.”
The works identify the extensive underdrawing of the Venetian buildings, from detailed chimney’s to facades, as well as how Canaletto used a ruler to outline reflections in the water.
Experts can now confirm that the Italian artist copied over the pencil lines with ink, he then added in details like birds, clouds and ripples on the water with a free hand.