Guardi, Giovanni Antonio, Guardi, Francesco

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Guardi, Giovanni Antonio (Gianantonio; Vienna 1699- Venice 1760) and Francesco (Venice 1712- Venice 1793): Italian family of draughtsman and painters supplying tourist views of Venice and chronicling the activities of the Doge.

Domenico Guardi (1678-1716) was the artist-father of the two most well known artists of the Guardi family, his eldest, Giovanni Antonio, known as Gianantonio, and his third child, Francesco. In 1716, upon Domenico’s death, Gianantonio became a young master of his father’s workshop. Very little work can be directly attributed only to the hand of Domenico, as only two paintings contain verifiable signatures. The first of these, a painting of St. John done at the tender age of 18, reveals him still developing his rendering skills.

By 1730, the German Field Marshal of the Venetian army, Graf Johann Matthais von der Schulenberg, began commissioning Gianantonio to create copies of acknowledged Venetian masters such as Titian and Tintoretto. Creating copies was not at all unheard of in Venetian studios and in fact becomes something of a signature of the Guardi family’s ability to adapt the original compositions and techniques of masters such as Ricci and Canaletto into works of their own. In addition to copies, Gianantonio created a series of images on a Turkish theme for von der Schulenberg. Around 1750 Gainantonio’s studio was commissioned to execute a series of paintings based on the Biblical story of Tobias for the choir loft of the church of the Angelo Raffaele in Venice. Gianantonio painted this complex set of fresco images using vibrant pastel tints of color and lively brushwork. These became the main characteristics of the Rococo painting style and they also became hallmarks of his younger brother’s style. This fact causes some to suggest the possibility that Francesco’s influence was increasing as his older brother’s was waning in the 1750s.

The collaborative family studio was more the rule than the exception in 17th and 18th century Venice; it is therefore no surprise that the transition from Gianantonio to Francesco’s leadership is difficult, if not impossible, to reliably trace. Francesco is known to have work in the workshop of Michele Marieschi in the late 1730s and early 1740s. During this time, Francesco was known to have also worked with the Guardi family workshop on larger commissions. By the time Gianantonio died in 1757, Francesco was married, and had begun a successful career as a vedutista, or painter of panoramic landscapes. In this pursuit, Francesco’s inspirations were the prints of Michele Giovanni Marieschi and, more obviously, the paintings of Canaletto, Antonio. Patrons valued these works less for their historical accuracy than for the quality of invenzione--evident in the imaginative activities playing against the dramatic landscape backgrounds. Most well known of these vedute, themselves copied from a series of engravings supposedly after Canaletto, Antonio is Francesco’s 12 paintings of the Ceremonies at the Installation of the Doge (ca. 1770s).

In a shift away from depicting landscapes and cityscapes and from Canaletto’s influence, Francesco began to focus on the events and styles of his day. Scholars have been able to date Francesco’s paintings during this period based on the hairstyles of the fashionable women who appear in them. There are qualities in these imaginative landscapes, ruined classical structures, Gothic arches, or the carefully placed temple or striking architectural feature that became the hallmarks of English gardens and Romantic Revivalist architectural styles. His popular ability to convey contemporary ambience caused Venice to commission Francesco to paint works commemorating two important visitors to Venice in 1782, a Russian Archduke and Pope Pius VI. Francesco filled these compositions with countless figures disposed in modish clothing and hairstyles. The last ten years of Francesco’s life were spent painting the imaginary settings indicative of this late style, called capricci. The spontaneous quality of Francesco’s brushwork and the centrality of color to the effect of his paintings made him (and his brother Gianantonio, in the Tobias paintings) a figure of admiration by 19th century Impressionists.

Further Reading:

A. Morassi, I Guardi: L’opera Completa di Antonio e Francesco Guardi, 3 vols., 1973-75.

P. Zampetti, ed. Guardi, 1965.

Randall K. Van Schepen

Roger Williams University