Art/ Collection/ Art Object

Piazza San Marco

Artist:
Francesco Guardi (Italian, Venice 1712–1793 Venice)
Date:
mid- to late 1760s
Medium:
Oil on canvas
Dimensions:
27 1/8 x 33 3/4 in. (68.9 x 85.7 cm)
Classification:
Paintings
Credit Line:
Bequest of Mary Stillman Harkness, 1950
Accession Number:
50.145.21
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 619
The picture is similar to view paintings by Canaletto of the same location. It was originally one of a pair of canvases, the second of which represented the Piazzetta adjacent to Saint Mark's Square. The artist has signed the miniature canvas at lower right, a clever illusionistic device.
Francesco Guardi was a Venetian born into the minor nobility and one of three brother artists. He joined the studio of his older brother, Giovanni Antonio Guardi (1699–1760), who was primarily a figure painter, at an early age. Francesco seems to have turned almost exclusively to landscape only after the death of Gianantonio. He painted Piazza San Marco from the west, as seen here, no less than twenty times, presumably throughout the second half of his career. Beginning decades earlier in the eighteenth century, Canaletto depicted the view repeatedly (see 1988.162), and Michele Marieschi (1710–1744) had painted it as well. All three of the great vedutisti were distantly preceded by Gentile Bellini, whose incomparable canvas representing a religious procession in Piazza San Marco (Accademia, Venice) dates to 1496. In fact, Venetian view painting was very much an eighteenth-century phenomenon, with both European and American practitioners continuing to work in the maritime city in the nineteenth century.

Here the entrance façade of the multi-domed basilica of San Marco is in shadow. To the left is the clock tower, brilliantly illuminated, and to the right, the campanile or bell tower, with a partial view of the side façade of Palazzo Ducale in sunlight beyond. The wedge-shaped piazza, which is enclosed on three sides, opens out slightly toward the basilica. Guardi shows the complete range of the Procuratie Nuove in late morning shadow to right, with a partial view of the Procuratie Vecchie opposite. These rather similar buildings, with arcades and shops on the ground level, had been designed to provide housing and office space for the procurators, or financial and tax officials, of St. Mark’s. The view was recorded at eye level from a point near the east end of the piazza and a little south of the central line. The façade of the clock tower was brought forward, and thus slightly out of alignment, to make it more visible, but basically the topography is accurate. The only important adjustment is to the bell tower, which, while proportionate in height, is much more slender than in fact, a pencil-like silhouette against the vast expanse of the sky. This change opens up the space, which seems larger and longer in proportion to the scale of the figures.

The majority of the figures—most are men—are wearing cloaks and hats, and cluster in the shadow of the Procuratie Nuove. Many of them have their backs turned. An exception is a fashionable gentleman in a powdered wig, a yellow coat, and a beige waistcoat, facing to front, his plumed tricorne hat under his arm. Of equal interest is a man in a soft hat in the lower right corner who carries under his arm an unframed painting, with a bare canvas tacking edge held in place by nails of which one is visible. It is a landscape, with a building to right, and a fondamenta and gondolas on the water are indicated. The tiny picture is signed Francesco Guardi. We do not know of any particular significance attaching to the artist’s signature, though such signatures are rare.

In 1884, our canvas was exhibited in London at Burlington House with a pendant representing the island of San Giorgio Maggiore seen through the columns of the Piazzetta. The two works, of exactly the same size, were sold one after the other, to different bidders, in 1924, when the present canvas fetched three times the price of its companion piece, since unlocated. If, as is generally believed, the earlier of two paintings by Francesco Guardi of the same subject in the National Gallery, London, precedes ours, and if that painting dates to about 1760, then The Met’s view was perhaps painted in the mid- or late 1760s.

[Katharine Baetjer 2017]
Inscription: Signed (lower right corner, on painting held by man): Franco. / Guardi
John Wilson FitzPatrick, later 1st Baron Castletown of Upper Ossory (by 1844–d. 1883); Augusta, Dowager Lady Castletown of Upper Ossory (1883–d. 1899); Bernard Edward Barnaby FitzPatrick, 2nd Baron Castletown of Upper Ossory, London (1899–1924; sale, Christie's, London, July 18, 1924, no. 144, for £2,205 to Smith); [Knoedler, New York; Scott & Fowles, New York; and Sulley, London; 1924–25; sold for $26,000 to Harkness]; Mr. and Mrs. Edward S. Harkness, New York (1925–his d. 1940); Mrs. Edward S. (Mary Stillman) Harkness, New York (1940–d. 1950)
London. British Institution. June 1844, no. 75 (as "St. Marks Place, Venice," by Guardi, lent by R. [sic] W. Fitzpatrick).

London. Royal Academy of Arts. "Winter Exhibition," January–March 1884, no. 175 (as "View in Venice," lent by Dowager Lady Castletown of Upper Ossory).

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Landscape Paintings," May 14–September 30, 1934, no. 10 (lent by Edward S. Harkness).

Hempstead, N. Y. Hofstra College. "Metropolitan Museum Masterpieces," June 26–September 1, 1952, no. 1.

Detroit Institute of Arts. "Venice, 1700–1800," September 30–November 2, 1952, no. 25.

Indianapolis. John Herron Art Museum. "Venice, 1700–1800," November 15–December 31, 1952, no. 25.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Junior Museum. "The Age of Discovery," October 1, 1957–June 30, 1958, no catalogue?

Allentown, Pa. Allentown Art Museum. "The Circle of Canaletto," February 21–March 21, 1971, no. 22.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Venetian Paintings in the Metropolitan Museum," May 1–September 2, 1974, no catalogue.

Leningrad [St. Petersburg]. State Hermitage Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," May 22–July 27, 1975, no. 13.

Moscow. State Pushkin Museum. "100 Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum," August 28–November 2, 1975, no. 13.

New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "The Treasury of San Marco, Venice," March 5–June 2, 1985, not in catalogue.

Athens. National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. "From El Greco to Cézanne: Masterpieces of European Painting from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York," December 13, 1992–April 11, 1993, no. 33.

George A. Simonson. Francesco Guardi, 1712–1793. London, 1904, p. 98, mentions it as in the collection of Lord Castletown, along with a second picture depicting the Piazzetta, signed F. G.

George A. Simonson. "An Early Guardi." Burlington Magazine 25 (August 1914), p. 267.

H[arry]. B. W[ehle]. "Paintings Lent from the Harkness Collection." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 28 (January 1933), p. 12.

"Illustrations of Outstanding Harkness Gifts." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 10 (October 1951), ill. p. 69.

"List of Gifts and Bequests of Mr. and Mrs. Harkness." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 10 (October 1951), p. 85.

Antonio Morassi. "Una mostra del Settecento veneziano a Detroit." Arte veneta 7 (1953), p. 61, dates it to the early 1750s and compares it with the version in the National Gallery, London.

Theodore Rousseau Jr. "A Guide to the Picture Galleries." Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 12, part 2 (January 1954), ill. p. 40.

Rodolfo Pallucchini. "Note alla mostra dei Guardi." Arte veneta 19 (1965), p. 230, dates it about 1760.

Maurizio Bonicatti. "Il problema dei rapporti fra Domenico e Giovanbattista Tiepolo." Celebrazioni tiepolesche: atti del Congresso internazionale di studi sul Tiepolo con un'appendice sulla mostra. Ed. Elettra Quargnal. [Milan], [1971], p. 32, fig. 20 (detail), calls the figure in the lower right corner a self-portrait.

Burton B. Fredericksen and Federico Zeri. Census of Pre-Nineteenth-Century Italian Paintings in North American Public Collections. Cambridge, Mass., 1972, pp. 96, 493, 608.

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. 31–32, pl. 34, date it to the 1750s and state that the composition is based on a Canaletto prototype; mention the version in the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo; note that the present location of the pendant is unknown.

Antonio Morassi. Guardi: Antonio e Francesco Guardi. Venice, [1973?], vol. 1, p. 370, no. 317; vol. 2, figs. 343–44 (overall and detail), states that a copy was sold at Weinmüller, Munich, March 15, 1967, no. 1403, as by Guardi.

Luigina Rossi Bortolatto. L'opera completa di Francesco Guardi. Milan, 1974, pp. 93–94, no. 77, ill.

Deborah Krohn et al. in From El Greco to Cézanne: Masterpieces of European Painting from the National Gallery of Art, Washington, and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Exh. cat., National Gallery Alexandros Soutzos Museum. Athens, 1992, p. 308, no. 33, ill. (color, overall and detail) [catalogue section unpaginated].



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