GUARDI, Gianantonio
(b. 1699, Wien, d. 1760, Venezia)

The Healing of Tobias's Father

c. 1750
Oil on canvas
Chiesa dell'Angelo Raffaele, Venice

What further possibilities could be squeezed from the rococo after Tiepolo were developed by the Guardi brothers and by Fragonard. Gian Antonio and Francesco Guardi represent the same phenomenon, probably active in the same studio and possibly in some sort of collaboration, until the death of Gian Antonio in 1760. Out of the art particularly of Pellegrini they produced a more dazzlingly coloured, more melting style - but one that had none of Pellegrini's international success, being restricted chiefly to serving a decorative function in obscure churches and villas of the Veneto. In many ways the closest affinities of this style are with Maulbertsch, and it remains more typical of the Tyrol than of Venice. Their compositions are quite often shamelessly borrowed; when not borrowed they are often shamelessly incoherent. In them objects are splintered by light in a sort of proto-impressionism. Perspective, organized aerial space, the Palladian solidity of Tiepolo, these are exchanged for a personal style of coloured handwriting - now brilliantly calligraphic, and now brilliantly cloudy, which uses reality as a sparking off point.

The most perfect expression of this style remains in the Tobias series for the organ loft of the church of Angelo Raffaele in Venice. In them it is as if the brush had barely touched the surface of the canvas, so rapidly does it move, obeying its own laws, and leaving the whole surface crackling with vitality. Everything shares the same texture, given by the painter. The compositions, framed by trees, set within deliberately decorative fronds and branches, are as capricious as some fan-design by Watteau. Normal reality has been dissolved and replaced by a new luminous atmosphere in which everything exists only in so far as light defines it. Indeed, the lines run like electric wire broken here and there by flashes of fire which give a glowing softness even to wood or metal or stone.