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Bernado Bellotto (1721 – 1780): An Italian Artist Travels North

On the 10th May 2018 Pembroke held the 2018 Keith Sykes Lecture.

Slide1The annual lecture is part of Keith Sykes’ generous support of Pembroke’s engagement with Italian studies. It is organised by the Keith Sykes Research Fellow, a post currently held by Dr Ambrogio Camozzi Pistoja.

This year’s speaker was Dr Gabriele Finaldi, Director of the National Gallery. Dr Finaldi spoke about Bernardo Bellotto, an artist who worked across North-East Europe in the 18th century, and who Dr Finaldi described as:

 “An artist who deploys a razor sharp vision, has a real feel for the sweep and drama of the landscape, has a tremendous command over colour and mass…but also understands local anecdote”

The National Gallery had recently acquired their first major work by Bellotto; The Fortress of Königstein from the North. The painting is of the imposing Saxon fortress of Königstein, still standing in present-day Germany. It showcases the incredible detail and accuracy with which Bellotto painted; aside from some more overgrown vegetation there are very few differences between the 18th century painting and a modern-day photograph of the Fortress.

Part of the reason that the National Gallery were so pleased to add this work to their collection, Dr Finaldi added, is geographical. The National Gallery is a collection of European art, but in practice the collection is mostly representative of western European art. Bellotto’s work pushes the representation of European art into the areas that have not been represented before. Bellotto worked in courts across Europe such as in Saxony, when Saxony and Poland were under the same King. Whereas other Italian artists headed to London, Germany or Spain, Bellotto headed to Dresden and later to Munich, Vienna and Poland. In Dresden, for example, he painted the emergency of a spectacular new city, transformed under the rule of Augustus II the Strong.

The 2018 Keith Sykes lecture was a fascinating artistic and geographical journey through Bellotto’s works.  Our thanks to Keith Sykes, Ambrogio, and Dr Finaldi for making it possible.

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