Guardi’s views of Venice differ from those of Canaletto in that they are less a detailed description of individual buildings than an attempt to convey the magic of the city, enveloped—as here—in a diaphanous, silvery light. This picture shows the cemetery island of San Michele with its early Renaissance church, designed by Mauro Codussi in 1469, at center. Flanking the church are the domed Cappella Emiliani and the Gothic bell tower on one side and the (former) Camaldolensian monastery on the other.
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Fig. 1. Antonio Visentini, "The Island of San Michele," etching, plate, 3 1/8 x 6 7/8 in. (The Met, 1983.1216.44)
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Credit Line:Bequest of Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, 2019
The church of San Michele in Isola and the adjoining former Camaldolensian monastery stand on the island of San Michele, which lies in the lagoon between the northeast side of Venice and the island of Murano. Designed in 1469 by Mauro Codussi (ca. 1440–1504), the church was the first and one of the most beautiful to be built in Venice in the Renaissance style. Although the facade of Istrian limestone vaguely recalls the austere facade of Leon Battista Alberti’s Tempio Malatestiano at Rimini, built in 1450, it is capped with a semicircular Veneto-Byzantine gable. The brick campanile is an earlier structure, completed in 1460. The lofty interior of the church was originally graced with Giovanni Bellini’s marvelous altarpiece of the Resurrection of Christ (ca. 1480) and Cima da Conegliano’s Sacra conversazione (ca. 1495), both now in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin. The hexagonal Emiliana Chapel, with its unusual limestone dome, was added to the complex in 1530 by the architect Guglielmo Bergamasco. In 1837 the canal separating San Michele from the neighboring island of San Cristoforo della Pace was filled in to form the municipal cemetery, now the resting place of many non-Italian luminaries.
While not a particularly favorite subject of painters, the island does appear in panoramic views of the lagoon taken from the Fondamente Nuove, such as those of the early 1720s by Gaspar van Wittel (1653–1736) and Canaletto (1697–1768) and the much later ones by Francesco Tironi (ca. 1745–1797). Not only was it the subject of paintings by Guardi in the collection of John Strange, the British Resident in Venice, but a glimpse of it can also be seen in one of Guardi’s earliest view paintings, formerly in the collection of the comte du Boisrouvray, Neuilly-sur-Seine. There the roof of San Michele in Isola and its campanile rise in the middle distance behind the island of San Cristoforo. The du Boisrouvray canvas also shows Codussi’s dome, which, curiously, is not depicted in The Met's painting. A second, much smaller, late view by Guardi of the island was also formerly in the du Boisrouvray collection.
The Met's canvas is unique in that it presents a frontal view of San Michele: all the others show the island at an oblique angle from the northwest, giving prominence to the Emiliana Chapel, as seen in an etching by Antonio Visentini (see fig. 1 above) which served as a prototype for countless copyists. The picture probably dates from the early 1770s, making it an example of the artist’s early maturity as a view painter. Apparently, it does not have a pendant.
[2014; adapted from Fahy 2005]
[Arthur Tooth and Sons, London]; Walter Dunkels, England (died 1956); S. Messer, Esq., Sussex, England; [Edward Speelman, London, until 1984; sold to Wrightsman]; Mr. and Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1984–his d. 1986); Mrs. Charles Wrightsman, New York (1986–d. 2019; cat., 2005, no. 23)
New York. The Metropolitan Museum of Art. "Bellini to Tiepolo: Summer Loans at The Metropolitan Museum of Art," June 29–August 31, 1993, unnum. checklist.
THIS WORK MAY NOT BE LENT, BY TERMS OF ITS ACQUISITION BY THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM OF ART.
Antonio Morassi. Guardi: Antonio e Francesco Guardi. Venice, [1973?], vol. 1, pp. 250–51, 431, no. 650; vol. 2, fig. 610, as formerly with the dealer Tooth, London; calls it by far the most beautiful and important of Guardi's depictions of this subject and assigns it to the artist's early-middle period.
Luigina Rossi Bortolatto. L'opera completa di Francesco Guardi. Milan, 1974, p. 101, no. 195, ill., calls it a wonderful view from Guardi's earliest mature period.
John Russell. "An Assortment of Very-Welcome Summer Guests." New York Times (August 6, 1993), p. C24.
Everett Fahy inThe Wrightsman Pictures. Ed. Everett Fahy. New York, 2005, pp. 79–80, no. 23, ill. (color), notes that it is the only view by Guardi of San Michele that depicts a frontal view of the island; states that it probably dates to the early 1770s.
Hakim Bishara. "A Glorious Gift of European Artworks Is on Display at the Metropolitan Museum." Hyperallergic. November 19, 2019, ill. (color, installation views) [https://hyperallergic.com/528444/a-glorious-gift-of-european-artworks-is-on-display-at-the-metropolitan-museum/].
The Private Collection of Jayne Wrightsman. Christie's, New York. October 14, 2020, p. 12.
Related Works: 1) Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (A 3403). Oil on canvas, 5 1/2 × 8 1/2 in. (14 × 21.5 cm). Morassi 1973, no. 653. Based on an etching by Antonio Visentini (MMA 1983.1216.44(18); see fig. 1 above). 2) Sold, Christie's, London, July 6, 1990, no. 78. Oil on canvas, 11 7/8 × 18 1/4 in. (30.2 × 46.4 cm). The island is seen from the south, with the facade of the church in shadow; an extensive view of Murano occupies the left half of the composition. 3) Formerly Senator d’Adda, Milan. Oil on canvas, 10 1/4 × 13 3/8 in. (26 × 34 cm). Similar to the London version. Morassi 1973, no. 651. 4) comte Guy du Boisrouvray, Neuilly-sur-Seine (sale, Sotheby’s, New York, October 27, 1989, no. 72). Oil on canvas, 6 × 8 1/2 in. (15.2 × 21.6 cm). A late work, the view is taken from the northwest, as in the Visentini etching. Morassi 1973, no. 652. 5) George A. Hearn, New York (d. 1913). Recorded in Frick Art Reference Library negative no. 12141. A weak version of the Visentini etching.
This work may not be lent, by terms of its acquisition by The Metropolitan Museum of Art.
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Francesco Guardi (Italian, Venice 1712–1793 Venice)
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