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Line Study in Canaletto's Drawing

Line is a key element of design and is used by all the artists. When one observes a painting or drawing, the lines direct the eyes attention and dictate the narrative of the piece. Some of the descriptive characteristics of the line, often heard when describing a piece of art, are: horizontal, vertical, angular, curving and diagonal. Lines are not only descriptive, but they are also often expressive. For example, vertical lines often convey a feeling of strength and balance, and thin lines convey fragility. Line can define a space and suggest volume and mass. As you can see, line is an important visual tool which artists use to direct the composition of their piece. The descriptive characteristics of the line are evident in Canaletto’s The Maundy Thursday Festival before the Ducal Palace in Venice.

Canaletto uses lots of diagonal lines to draw the viewer’s eye from the foreground of the image to the steeple and palace in the background. He balances out these chaotic lines with strong verticals, which create a striking and harmonious composition. All of the buildings framing the steeple are presented at an angle, which creates a great sense of depth and does not barricade the viewer from becoming a part of the painting. The arches of the buildings contribute linear interest to the drawing and draw attention to the details of the architecture. All of the lines are directed towards the center of the image, as if Canaletto was trying to instill a sense of order in this otherwise chaotic scene. This lends itself to the harmonious and balanced feeling that the lines help to convey. I think that Canaletto’s drawing is more successful than the modern photograph in the accuracy of the line. The modern photograph seems flat in comparison. The photographer was not able to direct the composition and evoke as successful of a mood through descriptive and expressive lines as Canaletto has done. 

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