A small exhibition of enormous significance…
Manchester Art Gallery
Saturday 20 November 2021–Sunday 27 February 2022
Views on a Fortress sees four reunited paintings from Bernardo Bellotto sit alongside responsive works by Der Zivilist, a collective of artists and students from Manchester School of Art.
In 1756-58, Venetian-born Bernardo Bellotto (1722-1780) painted Königstein fortress, a garrison on a crag about 25 miles south-east of Dresden. Now, for the first time in 250 years, Manchester Art Gallery is pleased to reunite its own two interior views with two exterior views of the fortress. This exhibition has at its heart just four of Bellotto’s paintings – but they are four of the finest.
Der Zivilist Collective is collaborating with Manchester Art Gallery to create a range of works in relation to Bellotto. Their work offers a reflection on the materiality of artefacts, and on ideas of value that are created by institutional conventions. These creative responses suggest how we may construct contemporary imaginings of historical works and use them to understand our own lives and experiences.
Bernardo Bellotto may be familiar to some Manchester visitors as the painter of the Königstein courtyard views in the public collection, on regular display since their acquisition in 1982-83. For many though, Bellotto is better known as the nephew of Venetian view painter Canaletto (1697-1768), who was also his teacher.
Bellotto received his commission for the Königstein paintings from August III (1696–1763), Elector of Saxony and King of Poland. They were part of a larger series of thirty views of Dresden and its surroundings. He received payment for the pictures in 1758 and, although completed, they were almost certainly never delivered to the Elector due to the escalation of the Seven Years’ War.
Reuniting the four paintings
On loan to Manchester will be The Fortress of Königstein from the North, the first eighteenth-century Northern European view painting to enter the collection of the National Gallery, London (in 2017). The Fortress of Königstein from the South is being lent by The Derby Collection, Knowsley Hall, Merseyside (the collection from which the National Gallery’s view of the fortress also came). They will be joining The Fortress of Königstein: Courtyard with the Brunnenhaus and The Fortress of Königstein: Courtyard with the Magdalenenburg in the collection of Manchester Art Gallery.
The fortress of Königstein, which is situated approximately 25 miles south-east of Dresden, appears largely unchanged from Bellotto’s own time. The four paintings show the ancient fortress from outside its forbidding walls as well as from within. Bellotto succeeds in capturing both the drama and detail of this commanding site, on canvases measuring more than two metres in width. Stand back and you can see the sharp, angular forms of the fortress but look closely and you can make out the crumbling stone walls, tiny soldiers on the ramparts and women hanging washing in the courtyard.
Applying what he had learnt in Venice to highly original panoramic depictions of northern Europe, Bellotto took the tradition of view painting in an entirely new direction. The works all demonstrate his outstanding technique and innovative approach to painting views, including the use of a camera obscura – the precursor of modern cameras – that helped Bellotto plan his compositions in minute detail.
Manchester Art Gallery is the second and final venue for this reunion of the Bellotto paintings, which can also be seen at the National Gallery, London until 31 October 2021.
This exhibition has been made possible as a result of the Government Indemnity Scheme. Manchester Art Gallery would like to thank HM Government for providing Government Indemnity and the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport and Arts Council England for arranging the indemnity.
With additional support from