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

Gondola in the Lagoon

c. 1765
Oil on canvas, 31 x 42 cm
Museo Poldi Pezzoli, Milan

Francesco Guardi was a collaborator of Gianantonio, from whom he learned the craft of painting, but he introduced into his older brothers art his own profoundly meditative personality. This fact is evinced by the essential differences to be discerned in the works the "workshop" produced. This picture, unanimously attributed by researchers to Francesco, is, in all likelihood, the fragment of a larger composition. The whole scene is summarized in the slow and calm movement of the gondoliere in the foreground, whereas the scenery of the lagoon virtually disintegrates in the mother-of-pearl atmosphere, which is lightened here and there by some rare flashes in the background. The lonely gondola is seen in the lagoon at the Fondamente Nuove, in front of the islands of San Cristoforo and San Michele.

The emotional intensity of the painting is condensed into this brief recording of the moment, as if it were a "phrase in music", for example in Vivaldi's or Albinoni's compositions of the same theme. The smooth lagoon and the "adagio continuo" are parallel motifs of picture and music. The scenery becomes dissolved in musicality, as musicality disintegrates "in sorrowful weeping" (Goethe).

The mournful character of the black gondola is both a forecast and a conscious experience of the future destiny of the world of lagoons — a world enclosed within its own modest boundaries. This is a world which has disappeared, because it was linked to a declining civilization. The argument was not continued, and it has not been taken up again; the other lagoon painters, such as the members of the Burano school, could not disguise the emptiness — not only of form but also of content.

Suggested listening (streaming mp3, 10 minutes):
Antonio Vivaldi: Concerto for recorder in A minor