GUARDI, Francesco
(b. 1712, Venezia, d. 1793, Venezia)

The Lagoon Looking toward Murano from the Fondamenta Nuove

Oil on canvas, 31,7 x 52,7 cm
Fitzwilliam Museum, Cambridge

Across the entire breadth of the painting stretches the smooth surface of the Lagoon. On the horizon the profile of an island is illuminated: Murano, as it appears from the eastern part of the Fondamenta Nuove, the quay on the northern side of Venice. Of the many belltowers visible on the island, a number have been pulled down in the meantime, as for instance that of San Maffio, on the far right; others, such as that of Santa Maria degli Angela on the far left, and that of San Pietro Martire, further toward the centre, still exist. To the left of Murano the island of San Cristoforo can just be discerned. The activity in the foreground, where many small figures are bustling about on unwieldy cargo boats, contrasts with the serenity of the background. Other figures are rowing smaller boats and in the middle an elegant gondola glides over the water; the passenger is almost entirely concealed by the boat's 'felze', or hood.

The light is diffuse, as it often is on a warm day in Venice. A blue haze makes the humidity of the atmosphere, which is so characteristic of the island area, almost palpable. The contrast between the vaguely indicated topography on the horizon and the vertical slashes of the masts and sails of the boats in the foreground, rendered with more vigorous brush-strokes, lends the painting a special effect. The work has a companion representing Sant'Andrea, another island in the Venetian archipelago, important because of a sixteenth-century fortification situated there. Previously several of these Lagoon views were attributed to the virtually unknown Francesco Tironi, but nowadays they are considered climactic achievements in the oeuvre of Francesco Guardi.

Compared with the San Cristoforo, San Michele and Murano from the Fondamenta Nuove (Kunsthaus, Zurich), where the precise, detailed manner of painting recalls Canaletto, the brushwork in this view of the Lagoon is looser and the effect of the atmosphere is much more pronounced. It is therefore certainly later, though assigning a precise date presents difficulties. Attention has been drawn to the relatively large size and curious proportions of the figures: the heads are much too small for the bodies. In the later work the figures become smaller. Therefore it seems reasonable to date the painting approximately 1765—'70.

It is not very likely that the atmosphere exuded by this particular canvas — one of the most suggestive Guardi ever made — would have been to the taste of English tourists, who were primarily interested in precise representations of Venice. Guardi's Lagoon scenes were rather intended for Venetian clients who were receptive to the picturesque qualities of their city and the surrounding watery landscape.