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

The Feast of the Ascension

c. 1775
Oil on canvas, 48 x 78 cm
Museu Calouste Gulbenkian, Lisbon

Guardi's art displays moments of genius in the way he was able to capture specific moments in Venetian life. This odd view shows the pavilions that were erected for the famous Feast of the Ascension (known simply as the Sensa in Venetian dialect).

The Festa della Sensa was one of the most important festivals in Venice, the climax being the celebration of the symbolic wedding between the Republic and the sea. The occasion was also marked by a regatta, as well as a "fiera', or fair, on Piazza San Marco that could last as long as fifteen days. In this painting the Piazza is shown from the west according to a traditional scheme. The buildings and market stalls on the right side, as well as many of the strolling and inquisitive figures on the square, are bathed in a brilliant light consisting of silver and bluish shades.

The Campanile of San Marco stands out exaggeratedly tall against the brilliantly clear sky, breaking the horizontal accents of the scene below. There is no greater contrast imaginable than the one between the careless elegance which this painting expresses and the dramatically charged mood which characterizes Canaletto's early depiction of the same theme (Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid).

It is worth noting that the Festa della Sensa, originally an important public ritual, had completely lost its political significance by the eighteenth century and become purely a tourist attraction.