Bernardo Bellotto is recognized as one of the greatest view painters in history, acquiring his fame in mid-eighteenth-century Dresden as the court painter for the elector of Saxony, Frederick Augustus II (who was also King Augustus III of Poland). Over the course of a decade, Bellotto produced dozens of breathtaking depictions of the city and its environs, most measuring over eight feet in width. The success and renown of these grand, comprehensive works would earn Bellotto prestigious commissions at prominent courts throughout Europe.
Bellotto’s magnificent paintings of Dresden are now on loan to the Kimbell Art Museum for the special exhibition The Lure of Dresden: Bellotto at the Court of Saxony, on view February 10 through April 28, 2019.
View the majesty that was Dresden in the 1700s
The exhibit begins with portraits and allegories of the elector and his queen:
Elector Friedrich August I of Saxony, as King August II of Poland,
aka “Augustus the Strong”, “the Saxon Hercules”, and “Iron-Hand”
As elector of Saxony, he is perhaps best remembered as a patron of the arts and architecture. He established the Saxon capital of Dresden as a major cultural center, attracting artists from across Europe to his court. He also amassed an impressive art collection and built lavish baroque palaces in Dresden and Warsaw.
Elector Friedrich August II of Saxony, as King August III of Poland
Under August III’s rule, Dresden and Saxony continued to enjoy the golden age of music, art, and architecture that had begun during his father’s reign. While his father was keenly interested in culture, particularly jewelry and porcelain, August III was a connoisseur of paintings, and he had exquissite taste. He had a network of agents deployed across Europe to acquire the very best art that money could buy. He enlisted a number of architects and artists, principally Italians, including Bernardo Bellotto, to work at the court in Dresden.
However, his reign was also marked by military conflicts- notably the Seven Years War, which took a heavy toll on Saxony. The costs of maintaining the Kingdom of Poland, financing wars, and running the court in a style befitting a powerful king lead to Saxony’s economic ruin.
Maria Josepha, Habsburg princess, consort of King August III of Poland
Friedrich August II’s 1719 marriage to Habsburg princess Maria Josepha gave them close ties with her uncle, Emperor Charles VI. Maria Josepha bore her husband fifteen children, and several married the offspring of major princely and royal houses. Her namesake, Maria Josepha, married the French Dauphin Louis de France and became mother to no fewer than three kings of France.
The golden age of Dresden was a very complex period of history.
It began with two elector monarchs. Germany did not exist during this time, and Saxony was in the center of central Europe. Saxony was a very important player in the Renaissance, as a source of extreme richness from minerals and a keen sense of inventiveness. The Saxons formed a system of factories, which included the first European porcelain factory- the Meissen factory.
The Meissen Porcelain Manufactory was the first of its kind in Europe. Master modeler Johann Joachim Kandler produced wares of unprecedented virtuosity, such as the above monumental vase (c.1741), which measures nearly three feet tall. To be noted is the sculptural embellishment rather than painted decor, and a portrait of the monarch in triumph, with his coat of arms as elector of Saxony and king of Poland. This vase was one of a set of five that was intended to be a royal gift for Louis XV of France. Due to shifting political alliances, this set of vases remained in Dresden.
Both August I and August II had a passion for the visual arts, science, theatre, and music and avidly invested in their advancement in Saxony. Culturally, the Saxon court modeled itself on Venice. The Saxon kings also emulated the opulence of the French court at Versailles.
Bellotto’s uncle and teacher was Antonio Canaletto. Several of Canaletto’s paintings of Venice are included in the exhibition to highlight the noticeable influence that he had on Bellotto. Canaletto’s palettes are slightly warm to Bellotto’s cooler palettes, and his style is more traditional. We see Bellotto’s style become more of a harsh realism representing a modern style of painting for that era. It is said that Canaletto is to Venice what Bellotto was to Dresden.
Bernardo Bellotto, who, like his uncle, also called himself “Canaletto”, arrived in Dresden in 1747. His talents were quickly rewarded; in 1748, Bellotto was promoted to court painter and given preferential status. His production of large-scale, detailed paintings during his stay in Dresden prior to the Seven Year’s War is impressive.
Bellotto’s “Architectural Capriccio with a Self-portrait in the Costume of a Venetian Nobleman,” c. 1762-65. Oil on canvas.
The above painting is one of two seldom-seen fantasy views of palaces—their stairs and arcades serving as backdrops to portraits of Bellotto and his patrons. In this painting, Bellotto has depicted himself as a Venetian nobleman, finely dressed in crimson robes and an elegant wig with long curls. With a grand gesture, he invites the viewer to enter the painting.
When Bellotto decided to seek new employment, he took a version of this picture with him and presented it- as a sort of letter of recommendation- to the King of Poland, Stanislaw II August Poniatowski, in Warsaw, who became his next great patron.
Bellotto was a master of composition, painting scenes from opposing vantage points (above), and even adding elements to his composition that were yet to exist, such as a Catholic church that had yet to be built, painted from architectural plans and represented in scaffolding.
detail of church in scaffolding
Stephan Koja decodes the multiple narratives that Bolletto inserted into his complex compositions.
On February 13, 1945, during WWII, Allied aircraft severely bombed the city of Dresden. In addition to the incalculable loss of life, many of the Baroque landmarks made famous by Bellotto were destroyed or severely damaged. The art collection had been previously evacuated, thankfully. More than two centuries later, Bellotto’s panoramic views of the city continue to serve as important records for the ongoing reconstruction of the destroyed buildings.
The Lure of Dresden: Bellotto at the Court of Saxony
February 10 through April 28, 2019
Kimbell Art Museum
3333 Camp Bowie Boulevard
Fort Worth, Texas 76107
Half-price tickets are available all day on Tuesdays and Friday after 5pm
This exhibition is organized by the Kimbell Art Museum and the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden. It is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities and by a grant from the Crystelle Waggoner Charitable Trust, Bank of America, N.A., Trustee