Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Pirna: The Obertor from the South

Bernardo Bellotto (Italian, Venice 1722–1780 Warsaw)
Oil on canvas
18 1/4 x 30 3/4 in. (46.4 x 78.1 cm)
Credit Line:
Wrightsman Fund, 1991
Accession Number:
Not on view
The nephew of Canaletto, by whom he was trained, Bellotto became a view painter of international renown. Between 1747 and 1758, he worked for the court of Dresden and this picture shows the nearby village of Pirna. Bellotto painted canvases representing Pirna with the Obertor for Elector Frederick Augustus II of Saxony and for his prime minister, Count Brühl, between 1753 and 1756. This reduced replica was commissioned by a private patron either concurrently or in the late 1760s.
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 (The Met, 53.601.329; see Additional Images, fig. 1).

[2011; adapted from Fahy 2005]
?Count Ozarowski, Warsaw (Czerniaków); [K. Majewski, Warsaw; probably until about 1925]; private collection (about 1925–about 1967; sold to Gregor); Dr. Horst Gregor, Berlin (about 1967–87; sold to Pokutta); [Norbert Pokutta, Munich, 1987; sold to Speelman]; [Edward Speelman, London 1987–90; half-share sold to Harari & Johns]; [Edward Speelman and Harari & Johns, London, 1990–91; sold to MMA]

Katharine Baetjer in "Recent Acquisitions, A Selection: 1991–1992." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 50 (Fall 1992), pp. 34–35, ill. (color), states that this is a reduced replica of one of nineteen views of the town of Pirna that Bellotto painted between 1753 and 1756 for Elector Frederick Augustus II of Saxony and his prime minister, Count Heinrich Brühl; adds that this work was made for an unknown private patron in the mid-1750s or 1760s.

John Russell. "An Assortment of Very-Welcome Summer Guests." New York Times (August 6, 1993), p. C24.

Edgar Peters Bowron. "Review of 'Bernardo Bellotto: Dresda, Vienna, Monaco (1747–1766),' by Alberto Rizzi." Burlington Magazine 140 (January 1998), p. 48, fig. 41, calls it an autograph replica of Rizzi no. 51 (Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister, Dresden) and dates it about 1760.

Everett Fahy in The Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 75–77, no. 22, ill. (color), dates Bellotto's small replicas of the paintings made for the elector and prime minister to probably about 1755–56.

John Marciari. Italian, Spanish, and French Paintings Before 1850 in the San Diego Museum of Art. San Diego, 2015, p. 282 n. 11.

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