Johann Richter (Stockholm 1665-1745 Venice), Venice: a view of the Molo from the Bacino di San Marco, with the Zecca, Campanile and Palazzo Ducale - Venice: a view of the Piazzetta looking towards the Libreria Sansoviniana, the Punta della Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute - Venice: a view of the Isola di San Michele with the church and monastery of San Michele in Isola - Venice: a view of the Isola di San Biagio with the Benedictine church and convent

set of four, all oil on canvas.  set of four, all oil on canvas. Estimate 400,000—600,000 USD

PROVENANCE: Robert de Traz, Geneva

CATALOGUE NOTE: Johann Anton Richter's set of paintings of Venice, an iconographic choice unique in the history of Venetian veduta painting, brings together in an ideal form both famous places in the monumental heart of the city – the Molo from the Bacino di San Marco and the Piazzetta with the Libreria Sansoviniana, the Punta della Dogana and Santa Maria della Salute – with picturesque, lesser-known places on the lagoon, the islands of San Michele and San Biagio.

The present Piazzetta looking towards the Punta della Dogana is a variant of a view already depicted by Richter in more than one painting. In addition to a composition in Stuttgart from the Barbini Breganze collection, an engraving by Bernard Vogel (1683-1737) (who published in Augsburg in about 1730 a collection of ten engravings from Venetian views painted by Richter1) documents the existence of a further version, present location unknown, characterized by being closer to the earlier painting by Luca Carlevarijs that created the reputation of this perspective view in one of the pictures in the Fabriche, e Vedute di Venetia collection, published in 1703. With a central perspective drawing attention to the Libreria Sansoviniana, Richter places the columns of San Marco and San Teodoro center stage. These two huge columns of red and grey granite were brought from the Orient in the twelfth century and were originally set up close to the water. Beyond the entrance to the Grand Canal, we see the tip of the Dogana da Mar reconstructed by Giuseppe Benoni, the massive mole of the Seminario Patriarcale, erected in 1669 to a design by Baldassare Longhena, the architect also responsible for the Basilica of Santa Maria della Salute (consecrated in 1687), the superb architecture of which is rendered by Richter with spectacular effect, and the end of the Giudecca canal leading into the Bacino di San Marco.

The view here is enlivened by figures reflecting the unique picturesqueness of Venetian life in the eighteenth century, a daily show of liveliness and gaiety that was a source of constant interest to foreigners. In particular, the large group of ladies around the charlatan reading papers at the foot of St. Mark's column shows the widespread use of the bauta, a kind of black silk cape sweeping down from a three-pointed headdress to the shoulders and supporting the black or white mask known locally as the larva or volto.

The third view in the set, The Isola di San Michele with the church and the monastery of San Michele in Isola, is of great interest in highlighting the city's spectacular location on the Lagoon, which is absolutely typical of and peculiar to Richter's veduta work. The church of San Michele, designed by Mauro Codussi, was erected between 1469 and 1478 and is one of the most significant pieces of Renaissance architecture in the Lagoon as it presents an elegant façade divided into three parts by pilasters, with two arched windows at the sides and a portal with a triangular tympanum. To the left of the façade stands the hexagonal Emiliani chapel, with corners ornamented by Corinthian columns and a Moorish type of high spherical dome. Behind the chapel stands the picturesque brick bell tower dating from about 1460, one of the most richly ornamented Venetian Gothic examples. To the right of the church stands the charming fifteenth century cloister. To the left, beyond the Marani canal with its cargo boats, stands Murano, at the center of the Lagoon, comprised of five islands and famous for its glassware. It is dominated by the bell towers of its three churches: San Pietro Martire, Santa Maria degli Angeli and Santa Maria e Donato.

The Isola di San Michele was a subject painted several times by Richter, always with compositional variants: a version engraved by Vogel shows the scene from a slightly more distant viewpoint. The print shows a traghetto (ferry) in the foreground in which four girls with flowers in their hair are laying a table, while a peota (covered cargo boat) laden with goods passes on the left. The same scene, with slight variants, recurs in a painting of The Isola di San Michele in a private collection, which itself relates to the mirror image picture in Stockholm's National Museum, entitled View with the Isola di San Michele.

The fourth view of the set is of great iconographic interest in depicting a part of Venice that no longer exists and has never appeared on canvas in this perspective. It shows the Punta di San Biagio at the western end of the island of the Giudecca, with the Giudecca canal in the foreground and the church of Saints Biagio and Cataldo and the associated convent. The church was founded in the tenth century and consecrated in 1188; in 1222 the Blessed Giuliana dei Conti di Collalto founded a monastery adjacent to the pre-existing church dedicated to Saints Biagio and Cataldo.

This remarkable set of pictures combining a delightfully inventive freshness with elements taken from reality, chronicling daily life and poetically contemplating the incomparable beauty of Venice and its lagoon, is datable to Richter's maturity, about the mid-1730s, when he moved on from his close attachment to the teachings of Luca Carlevarijs to revealing the most original features of his view of the lagoon, an architectural dream suspended between sky and sea.

Information based on a report by Dr Dario Succi.

1. See C. Le Blanc, Manuel de l'amateur d'estampes, Paris 1853-1890, vol. IV, nos. 108-117.

Sotheby's. Important Old Master Paintings, Including European Works of Art. 29 Jan 09. New York www.sothebys.com photo courtesy Sotheby's