We often take a lot for granted when viewing works of art. Have you ever wondered how accurately a painter depicts an actual place? Is the artist’s accuracy, or lack thereof, a matter of skill, or do artists use artistic license to purposefully alter a scene in order to emphasize their personal viewpoint or feeling, or to construct a more pleasing composition?
William Merritt Chase, In the Baptistry of St. Mark’s, Venice, 1878, oil on canvas, 33 1/2 x 43 1/2 in., Gift of Marcia Bishopric Gest in memory of Joseph Henry Gest and Henry Gest Jr.
During the time I worked on the conservation treatment of William Merritt Chase’s painting In the Baptistry, St. Mark’s, Venice, I traveled to Venice to see a retrospective exhibition of Chase's work and also the site of the baptistry painting. The exhibition was certainly informative, but experiencing the baptistry of St. Mark's was surprisingly revealing. The baptistry is not open to the public and required special permission to visit as well as photograph. A security guard was kind enough to take my picture, and almost from the perfect angle to mimic Chase’s composition. What discoveries can you make comparing the two images? See how many differences you can spot.
In 2017 NCMA conservator Perry Hurt visited the baptistry in St. Mark's to learn more about William Merritt Chase's composition. Research for this project was made possible by Ann and Jim Goodnight/The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fund for Curatorial and Conservation Research and Travel.
Chase Painting and Photo Comparison
In the actual Baptistry:
There’s no door on the far left; there’s a curtain at the far left.
The steps in the bottom left corner have changed and now include mosaic decoration.
There is damage and staining to the marble wall behind the figure.
The bench is different: dark wooden board on top, different marble faces and molding, and different dimensions.
At the far right there are no candlesticks and loose cloth; there's furniture.
There is no sculpture relief of St. George in the center of the marble wall.
The figure is a different guy, wearing glasses (far younger, too).
More to Consider
Did George Washington really look the way Rembrandt Peale depicted him?
Is Bridal Veil Falls in Yosemite Park actually as high as Albert Bierstadt suggests?
How accurate was Bernardo Bellotto's depiction of Dresden?