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Canaletto: synthetic visions of maritime Greenwich

Canaletto: synthetic visions of maritime Greenwich

Withers, Simon ORCID: 0000-0002-0203-359X (2023) Canaletto: synthetic visions of maritime Greenwich. Architectural Design, 93 (5). pp. 104-111. ISSN 0003-8504 (Print), 1554-2769 (Online) (doi:

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From paint to point cloud
Between 1750 and 1755 Antonio Canal, known as Canaletto, painted three views of the Royal Hospital at Greenwich, one since lost, another on loan at Tate Britain and the third in Greenwich at the National Maritime Museum. The points of view of the two extant paintings are now unattainable views, located at the end of a viewing platform that then projected from the Isle of Dogs, out over the Thames, aligned to the axis of the Vista Land and aimed at Queen’s House. The Vista Land is the inviolate strip of land exactly the width of Queen’s House as if a parallel shadow cast by the house led to the river, a shadow that by statute can never be built upon. This shadow, this architectural void, bisects the great baroque ensemble of the Royal Hospital for Seamen forming two wings hinging at Queen’s House. Canaletto uses this hinge to articulate or pivot the Royal Hospital, perspectively opening the view by 10 degrees or so. ‘He placed himself in unattainable viewpoints and adjusted the position of the monuments to suit his pictorial requirements’ J. G.
Further synthetic compositional devices invented by Canaletto substantially differentiate the two extant paintings. The Tate version is based upon an engraving of the Royal Hospital by Jacques Rigaud in 1736, also at the National Maritime Museum. This engraving is also a highly synthesised composition incorporating considerable architectural invention, although it is based upon observations Rigaud made from the same projecting platform as Canaletto. The engraving itself fluctuates, existing in both monochrome and polychrome editions.
Proposed project
The project is to reconstruct Canaletto’s ‘Greenwich Hospital from the north bank of the Thames’ of 1750-52, now at the National Maritime Museum, not in paint but as a point cloud, not in a Renaissance two dimensional perspectival representational view but as a highly detailed, data rich, three dimensional model affording multitude of points of view, projections, and scales. The model will be built with terrestrial and SLAM LiDAR scanners, with terrestrial and aerial photogrammetry for which we already have the necessary scanners and drones. Assembling Canaletto’s point of view will entail building a point cloud model of the entire Old Royal Naval College and Queen’s House (partially built already), we can then project back in space to exactly the point where Canaletto stood to study the Royal Hospital. We can then see through Canaletto’s eyes ‘the view, one of the few examples of a London subject which remains largely unchanged today’ ‘Canaletto & England’ p92

Item Type: Article
Additional Information: This project is to reconstruct Canaletto’s ‘Greenwich Hospital from the north bank of the Thames’ of 1750-52, now at the National Maritime Museum.
Uncontrolled Keywords: lidar; 3d scanning; Greenwich; Queen's house; ORNC; Greenwich park; photogrammetry; drone survey; Canaletto; vista land
Subjects: N Fine Arts > NA Architecture
N Fine Arts > NC Drawing Design Illustration
Q Science > QA Mathematics > QA76 Computer software
Faculty / School / Research Centre / Research Group: Faculty of Liberal Arts & Sciences
Last Modified: 06 Oct 2023 12:02

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