On the right is the village of Canonica d'Adda, northeast of Milan, and in the center is Vaprio with the Villa Melzi, where Leonardo da Vinci visited his pupil Francesco Melzi. Bellotto noted on the related drawings that the picture and its pendant were painted in 1744 for Count Simonetta in Milan. The companion piece in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples shows the landscape from the opposite direction.
The Artist: Bernardo Francesco Paolo Ernesto Bellotto was born in 1722 in Venice, the son of Lorenzo Antonio Bellotto. His mother, Fiorenza, was the sister of the famous view painter Antonio Canal, called Canaletto, in whose studio he was trained from an early age, and whose name he would later use when traveling in central Europe. Bellotto is recorded as an independent painter in Venice in 1738, at a very early age, and he married there in 1741. The previous year he had been invited to Florence, receiving a commission for four views of that city. He seems to have visited Rome in 1742–43, where he painted perhaps a dozen works. After a period in Venice he went to Lombardy in 1744 to take up a commission for views of Vaprio d’Adda from Count Simonetta of Milan; he also painted two city views in Turin in 1745. Bellotto left Italy, never to return, in 1747, and in Dresden the following year was appointed court painter to Friederich August II, elector of Saxony and king of Poland; he also worked extensively for the prime minister, Count Heinrich Brühl. In 1758/59, at the request of the empress Maria Theresa of Austria, he spent two years with his son Lorenzo in Vienna painting the city, palaces, and gardens. He made a brief visit to Munich in 1761. Six years later, in Warsaw, Bellotto took up his last appointment as a court artist, in the service of Stanisław August II Poniatowski of Poland, where he died in 1780.
The Painting: Vaprio—in the local dialects, Vaver or Vavar—rises on the far bank of the Adda River, which occupies the foreground. The river flows swiftly from the middle distance at right to the lower left, marked by wavelets like those in views of Venice by Bellotto’s uncle Canaletto. Parallel to the foot of the bank below the town, a high stone wall separates the river from a navigable canal which joins it to Milan. On the near side, to the right, is the village of Canonico d’Adda. Milanese families had for centuries summered in the area, some twenty-five miles northeast of the city at the foothills of the Bergamask Prealps. Historically, the river also marked the boundary between Milanese and Venetian territory. The most prominent building in Vaprio d’Adda is the Villa Melzi, at the center, with its extensive, terraced gardens. There in the early sixteenth century Leonardo da Vinci visited his pupil, Francesco Melzi, and there he studied in drawings the canal and the ferry crossing of the Adda—which can be seen in the picture, and also, famously, the movements of water.
Count Antonio Simonetta was Milanese and held inherited lands in Vaprio: Palazzo Simonetta Archinto, on the central square, and, to the north of the town, a country house called Monasterolo and extensive property running along the west bank of the canal. Through Simonetta’s only daughter, Francesca, the estate descended in the Castelbarco Visconti Albani family, and was held by them through the nineteenth century. Our painting shows the view to the north and its pendant, now in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples, presents the same landscape, but looking to the south, from an island off Monasterolo. Each of the two includes large, colorful foreground figures by another hand and the tree at the right of our painting may also be a later addition. A third canvas of about the same size shows a somewhat different, closer view from the south, in which in the towpath and canal are prominent; a further pair, smaller in scale, are variants of the other two. All of Bellotto’s paintings of Vaprio d’Adda are compressed with respect to the landscape and the smaller their scale, the greater the compression. Here the staffage that Bellotto himself painted—a man on horseback in shallow water, a woman standing with a man in a rowing boat, a laundress—is typical. The architecture is detailed with the usual precision, but the effect of the painting is less documentary than most because of the remarkable way in which the artist has suggested the dimming light of a clear summer evening. Unfortunately, the state of preservation is compromised.
The Commission: A drawing relating to our painting is numbered 6 at the upper right and thus belonged to a series (Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, AE2215), of which two others are known. The sheet may have been inscribed slightly later than it was made, in the following terms: Copia dela Veduta di Vauder e canonica del Sigr: Bernardo Belloto deto: il Canaletto / per il Illo: Sigr: Conte Simonetta / l’anno 1744 (Copy of the view of Vaprio and Canonica by Signor Bernardo Bellotto called Canaletto, for the illustrious Signor Count Simonetta, [in] the year 1744). The artist’s use of the word copy could perhaps be understood to mean a transcription, or a record; a squared drawing was more likely but not certainly prepared before, as an aid to the preparation of a painting. The count, a collector of books and of (principally Lombard) pictures, had married Teresa Castelbarco, a lively and well-connected figure in Milanese society who was in touch with the Venetian pastelist Rosalba Carriera at about the same time concerning the possibility of ordering a portrait. Conceivably, Canaletto was invited to Lombardy, or Bellotto was invited, or replaced his uncle: political circumstances were not propitious and commissions were difficult to come by for both of them.
[Katharine Baetjer 2018]
 For the artist’s date of birth, long disputed, see Bozena Anna Kowalczyk, "Il Bellotto veneziano nei documenti," Arte Veneta 47 (1995), pp. 69–77.  The third larger painting (private collection) was commissioned by Giuseppe Pozzobonelli, Archbishop of Milan. The smaller pair is also privately owned.  In addition to an irregular framing line in ink, there are graphite squaring lines on the drawing, which is in ink over graphite. The other drawings employ the same techniques and are similarly inscribed. They may be found in Darmstadt (AE 2216, numbered 5) and Warsaw (Rys. Pal. 2039), indicating that the artist took them with him when he left Italy. The Warsaw drawing is recorded as having descended in his family.
conte Antonio Simonetta, Milan and Vaprio d'Adda (until d. 1759); his daughter, Francesca Simonetta, contessa Cesare Ercole Castelbarco Visconti Simonetta (from 1759); by descent to conte Carlo Castelbarco Albani Visconti Simonetta, Milan and Villa Simonetta, Vaprio d'Adda (?until d. 1890); ?conti Quintavalle, Milan; marchesa Carolina Zaccaria Melzi d'Eril (sold through her son to Heimann); [Jacob M. Heimann, New York, by 1935–39; sold to The Met]
Wiesbaden. Nassauisches Landesmuseum. "Italienische Malerei des 17. und 18. Jahrhunderts," 1935, no. 17 (lent anonymously).
Honolulu Academy of Arts. "Four Centuries of European Painting," December 8, 1949–January 29, 1950, no. 14.
Art Gallery of Toronto. "Fifty Paintings by Old Masters," April 21–May 21, 1950, no. 1.
Detroit Institute of Arts. "Thirty-Eight Great Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," October 2–28, 1951, no catalogue.
Art Gallery of Toronto. "Thirty-Eight Great Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," November 14–December 12, 1951, no catalogue.
City Art Museum of St. Louis. "Thirty-Eight Great Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," January 6–February 4, 1952, no catalogue.
Seattle Art Museum. "Thirty-Eight Great Paintings from The Metropolitan Museum of Art," March 1–June 30, 1952, no catalogue.
Baltimore Museum of Art. "Age of Elegance: The Rococo and Its Effect," April 25–June 14, 1959, no. 179.
Venice. Palazzo Ducale. "I vedutisti veneziani del Settecento," June 10–October 15, 1967, no. 90.
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.
Verona. Museo di Castelvecchio. "Bernardo Bellotto: Verona e le città europee," June 15–September 16, 1990, no. 13 (as "Vaprio e Canonica verso nord-ovest").
Venice. Museo del Settecento Veneziano-Ca' Rezzonico, Gallerie dell'Accademia and Palazzo Mocenigo. "Splendori del Settecento veneziano," May 26–July 30, 1995, no. 76 (as "Vaprio e Canonica verso Monasterolo").
Museo di Milano at Palazzo Morando. "La Milano del Giovin Signore: Le arti nel Settecento di Parini," December 14, 1999–April 12, 2000, no. 2.
Turin. Palazzo Bricherasio. "Canaletto e Bellotto: l'arte della veduta," March 14–June 15, 2008, no. 59.
Milan. Gallerie d’Italia. "Bellotto e Canaletto: lo stupore e la luce," November 25, 2016–March 5, 2017, no. 55 (as "Vaprio and Canonica on the Adda, looking North-West, Lombardy").
Hellmuth Allwill Fritzsche. Bernardo Bellotto gennant Canaletto. Burg b[ei]. M[agdeburg]., 1936, pp. 27, 106, 132, no. VG 22, connects this painting with a drawing in the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, inscribed "Copia dela Vedutta di Vaver e Cannonica del Sig. Bernardo Belotto detto il Canaletto per il Illmo Sig. Conte Simonetta l'anno 1744"; states that the picture and its pendant (formerly in the Crespi collection, Milan; now private collection, Rome) were painted in 1744 for Count Antonio Simonetta.
Harry B. Wehle. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: A Catalogue of Italian, Spanish, and Byzantine Paintings. New York, 1940, pp. 273–74, ill.
Louise Burroughs. "View of Vaprio d'Adda by Bellotto." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 35 (February 1940), pp. 32–34, ill.
Stanislaw Lorentz and Stefan Kozakiewicz. Bellotto a Varsavia. Venice, 1955, pp. 55, 64 n. 6, p.65.
Stanislaw Lorentz and Stefan Kozakiewicz. Bernardo Bellotto 1720–1780. Exh. cat., Walker Art Gallery. Liverpool, 1957, p. 25, under no. 30.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. La pittura veneziana del Settecento. Venice, 1960, p. 223, pl. 580.
Rodolfo Pallucchini. Vedute del Bellotto. Milan, 1961, p. 10, and mentioned under no. 3.
Stefan Kozakiewicz inBernardo Bellotto gennant Canaletto in Dresden und Warschau. Exh. cat., Albertinum. Dresden, 1963, pp. 70–71, under no. 70.
Pietro Zampetti. Letter to Theodore Rousseau. January 23, 1968, suggests that the figures in the foreground are by another hand.
Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 24, 493, 607.
Stefan Kozakiewicz. Bernardo Bellotto. Greenwich, Conn., 1972, vol. 1, pp. 41–42; vol. 2, pp. 59–60, no. 83, ill., suggests that the foreground figures, which are absent from the Darmstadt drawing and "painted in a style which bears no resemblance to Bellotto's," may be later additions by the painter Giovanni Battista Crossato, possibly portraits of members of Count Simonetta's family; adds that the tree to the extreme right of the composition, which does not correspond to the tree in Bellotto's drawing, is probably by the same later hand
Federico Zeri with the assistance of Elizabeth E. Gardner. Italian Paintings: A Catalogue of the Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Venetian School. New York, 1973, pp. 11–12, pl. 10.
Ettore Camesasca. L'opera completa del Bellotto. Milan, 1974, p. 93, no. 48, ill.
Mariolina Olivari inBernardo Bellotto: Verona e le città europee. Ed. Sergio Marinelli. Exh. cat., Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona. Milan, 1990, pp. 76–80, 84, no. 13, ill. (color, overall and detail), discusses Simonetta as a patron, and his ties to Vaprio d'Adda.
Sergio Marinelli inBernardo Bellotto: Verona e le città europee. Ed. Sergio Marinelli. Exh. cat., Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona. Milan, 1990, p. 40.
Sergio Marinelli. "Aggiornamenti su Bellotto." Arte veneta 44 (1993), p. 84.
Bozena Anna Kowalczkyk Trupiano inSplendori del Settecento veneziano. Ed. Giovanna Nepi Sciré and Giandomenico Romanelli. Exh. cat., Ca' Rezzonico, Venice. Milan, 1995, pp. 301, 310–11, no. 76, ill. (color), states that the foreground figures are clearly by another hand; notes that a third depiction of the site is known through a drawing in the Warsaw museum and two paintings (sale, Christie's, London, November 30, 1970, no. 100; sale, Christie's, London, December 13, 1991, no. 100 or 101); lists conte Melzi d'Eril as a former owner.
Mariolina Olivari inLa Milano del Giovin Signore: Le arti nel Settecento di Parini. Ed. Fernando Mazzocca and Alessandro Morandotti. Exh. cat., Museo di Milano at Palazzo Morando. Milan, 1999, pp. 217–18, no. 2, ill. p. 50 (color), describes the picture as the most "archaic" of Bellotto's five views of Vaprio; recognizes a second hand in the painting of the figures, the tree at right, and a portion of the sky
Charles Beddington inBernardo Bellotto and the Capitals of Europe. Ed. Edgar Peters Bowron. Exh. cat., Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. New Haven, 2001, p. 24, observes that while the inscriptions on the Darmstadt drawings describe each as a "copy" after a painting, the drawings themselves have the appearance of being preparatory
Bozena Anna Kowalczyk inCanaletto e Bellotto: l'arte della veduta. Ed. Bozena Anna Kowalczyk. Exh. cat., Palazzo Bricherasio, Turin. Cinisello Balsamo (Milan), 2008, pp. 156, 162–63, 166, 168, no. 59, ill. (color), calls the drawing in Darmstadt a preparatory work.
John Marciari. Italian, Spanish, and French Paintings Before 1850 in the San Diego Museum of Art. San Diego, 2015, p. 189 n. 1.
Bozena Anna Kowalczyk inBellotto and Canaletto: Wonder and Light. Ed. Bozena Anna Kowalczyk. Exh. cat., Gallerie d'Italia, Milan. Cinisello Balsamo, Milan, 2016, pp. 172–74, 180, 280, 289, no. 55, ill. (color) [Italian ed., "Bellotto e Canaletto: lo stupore e la luce"].
Vaprio d'Adda, a small town between Milan and Bergamo, is seen across the Adda river. In the center is the villa Melzi d'Eril. On the right, on the near side of the river, is the village of Canonica d'Adda. This painting has a pendant of the same site seen from a different viewpoint. Formerly in the collection of Mario Crespi, Milan, and later in a private collection, Rome, it is now in the Museo di Capodimonte, Naples. A drawing by Bellotto of this same view in the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt (inv. no. AE 2215), is inscribed across the bottom: "Copia dela Veduta di Vaver e Canonica del Sigr: Bernardo Belloto deto: il Canaletto / per il Illo: Sigr: Conte Simonetta / l'anno 1744". A second drawing in the same museum (inv. no. AE 2216) corresponds to the pendant and bears an inscription that specifies "S. Ea il Sig. Cavaliere Antonio Simonetta".