Guardi's Venice's, a Shimmering Dream of a Magical City

Francesco Guardi, detail from Piazza San Marco, Venice, ca. 1775-1780

Antonio Canaletto may be the best known 18th Venetian vedutista, (view painter), but Francesco Guardi is surely the most evocative. Whereas Canaletto approached his subject with topographical precision, Guardi's Venice shimmers through a moisture-laden atmosphere. Tiny dots, strings and licks of lightly applied paint capture the appearance of light sparkling on the canals, or flickering off the richly ornamented surfaces that characterize this place of pageantry.

Francesco Guardi, Piazza San Marco, Venice, ca. 1775-1780

While visiting the National Gallery of Scotland recently, I had the opportunity to get a closer look several of Guardi's fine works. In his painting of the Piazza San Marco, from around 1775, the cathedral sports the festive air of a birthday cake dappled with pastel coloured sprinkles, with the sumptuously garbed society folk promenading in the square the party goers.

Francesco Guardi, detail from Piazza San Marco, Venice, ca. 1775-1780 
Francesco Guardi, Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, 1770

When painting Santa Maria della Salute, Guardi presents this magnificent evidence as seen from across the canal, thus giving himself the space to capture the bustle of Venice's distinctive waterways. Gondoliers, sailors, and passersbys spring to life through animated gestures deftly fashioned from a few quick squiggles (it might look easy but trying making it work!)

Francesco Guardi, detail from Santa Maria della Salute, Venice, 1770

Deliciously delicate drooping lines resolve into a boat's rigging. It's no surprise that Guardi was much admired by the Impressionists, who saw in him a spiritual ancestor in the quest to suggest the effects of light. Two and a half centuries after they were painted Guardi's visions of Venice remain an enchanting reflection of a city that is like no other.

Read more about these two paintings in Scotland's National Gallery here and here.