Francesco Guardi, Venice from the Bacino di San Marco, 1765. Oil on canvas.
Francesco Guardi was an Italian painter of the Venetian school. Guardi was active in the mid and late 18th century, primarily as a painter of vedute. Guardi was born into an esteemed family of painters, and inherited his father’s workshop after his death in 1716. Guardi’s work shows profound influence from artists like Canaletto and Luca Carlevarijis. This painting by Guardi showcases his romantic approach to vedute. The painting shows a view of the Grand Canal of Venice, the city’s major waterway and most important vessel of travel and trade. Beyond the ships, we see Palazzo Ducale—the Venetian seat of government—the dome of the Basilica San Marco, it’s campanile, the library, and the city’s Mint. The buildings and the ships are rendered with a relatively high level of detail as far as Guardi’s paintings go: the pilasters of the gothic arches at Saint Mark’s are carefully described. This stylistic inconsistency with the rest of his oeuvre can perhaps be attributed to the fact that it was painted fairly early in Guardi’s career, at a time when he hadn’t quite established a style of his own. Guardi’s treatment of the sky is more typical. Although the piece is an oil on canvas, it almost appears as if the sky is painted with watercolors. It’s soft but dramatic pinks, blues, and greys create a tonal harmony that contrasts with the rigidity of the ships. The masts of the ships frame Palazzo Ducale and the other buildings around Saint Mark’s square, leaving this important space for civic and religious life without the business of ships, thus drawing our attention towards it. The water seems to be a microcosm of the city: a variety of boats are represented including small, private boats and larger commercial boats. In this respect, the water emerges as the life of the city.