This view takes its name from the tower rising above the gatehouse in front of the fortified walls of the town of Pirna. The high building on the hill to the right is the castle of Sonnestein. To the left of the Obertor, silhouetted against the sky, are the roof and bell tower of the Marienkirche, and on the far left is the spire of the Rathaus. When the picture was painted, Pirna was a small town on the Elbe, about ten miles southeast of Dresden. In 1826 the Obertor and the walls were demolished to make way for expanding suburbs; today the area is engulfed in an industrial zone of Dresden.
Between 1753 and 1756, Bellotto painted a series of eleven panoramic views of the town of Pirna for Frederick Augustus III (1696–1763), elector of Saxony and king of Poland, and, almost simultaneously, a set of replicas for the prime minister, Count Heinrich Brühl. The elector’s painting of Pirna with the Obertor is in the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen, Dresden. The Brühl variant was acquired by Catherine the Great from the prime minister’s heirs in 1768, deposited in the Pushkin Museum, Moscow, in 1930, and transferred to the Alupka State Museum (Alupka, Ukraine) in 1956.
The royal and the Brühl canvases are in a large format, almost all of them about 53 inches high and 94 inches wide. The present painting, like most of the replicas that Bellotto painted for ordinary paying customers, is cabinet size. These small replicas could have been painted anytime between 1753, when Bellotto started the large-format series, and 1758, when he moved to Vienna, or between 1762 and 1767, when he returned to Dresden for his second Saxon period. All of the autograph replicas agree in details of the architecture, although there are variations in the staffage. To judge from Bellotto's increasingly broader handling of paint, they probably date from about 1755–56.
The view of the Obertor is also the subject of one of Bellotto's five etchings of Pirna (MMA 53.601.329; see Images).
[2011; adapted from Fahy 2005]