Traces of the Hand

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Traces of the Hand: Master Drawings from the Collection of Frederick and Lucy S. Herman

Functions

Giacomo Guardi
Italian, 1764–1835
View of the Piazza San Marco (Veduta della Piazza di S. Marco), early 19th century
Gouache
5 7/16 x 9 1/16 in, 13.81 x 23.02 cm (sheet)
Inscription: (verso) signature: "Giacomo de Guardj"; "Veduta della Piazza di S. Marco / all’Ospedaletto in SS. Giov e Paolo No. 5245 dimandar / Giacomo de Guardj" ("View of the Piazza San Marco / from the Hospital of Saints Giovanni and Paolo No. 5245 ask for / Giacomo de Guardi")
Provenance: Christie’s, London, 29 November, 1983
Gift of The Frederick and Lucy S. Herman Foundation, 2006.11.23

Venice is known as the birthplace of the veduta, or view painting, a subject that peaked in popularity during the mid-eighteenth century, when cityscapes functioned as souvenirs of the Grand Tour.1 Wealthy Northern Europeans traveling through France and Italy desired beautiful, idealized reminders of their adventures and became patrons of the large, elaborate vedute made by famous vedutisti, including Canaletto (Giovanni Antonio Canal, 1697–1768). In contrast to Canaletto’s detailed vedute commissioned for grand residences, Giacomo Guardi produced much smaller and more painterly views. Although Giacomo’s pictures functioned like our postcards, the artist favored the presentation of mood over photographic accuracy. His lively pictures, including View of the Piazza San Marco, were widely collected around the turn of the nineteenth century, and were particularly appreciated for their scale and playfulness.

Giacomo Guardi was the youngest artist of a multi-generational Venetian workshop, and he dedicated his career to the production of small-scale vedute. Giacomo inherited the family’s studio from his father Francesco Guardi (1712–1793), the last of the great eighteenth-century vedutisti. Greatly influenced by Francesco’s atmospheric style, Giacomo created hundreds of vedute in gouache and in pen and ink. Due to their intimate size, they are often called vedutine (mini vedute).2 Most depict famous Venetian piazze or monuments favored by tourists, including St. Mark’s Square, the Ducal Palace, and the Rialto Bridge. To promote his business, Giacomo typically inscribed the verso of his vedutine—as he did with this drawing—with its title, his studio address, and his signature. This aided his patrons’ return to purchase additional vedutine.

View of the Piazza San Marco exemplifies Giacomo Guardi’s oeuvre while illustrating the transformation of the veduta. In this vedutine looking towards St. Mark’s Basilica, Giacomo uses gouache to animate a scene of figures engaged in various activities. The muted blue, brown, and orange tones create the painterly scene, while black delineates the architectural and figural details. Instead of individualized figures, the artist suggests faces with dots, adding to the lighthearted air of the view. One detail of the men’s costuming indicates that Giacomo most likely produced this vedutine during the early nineteenth century: the gentlemen wear top hats, the newest trend in men’s headgear just after the turn of the century.3 Arriving at the end of the long trajectory of Venetian souvenir views, the subject matter of this vedutine epitomizes the cityscape tradition while its scale and style show the development of the genre from grand, luxurious, topographically accurate paintings to small, painterly souvenirs.

Eleonora Raspi
Meaghan Kiernan

 

1. Bernard Aikema and Boudewijn Bakker, Painters of Venice: the Story of the Venetian 'Veduta, Amsterdam: Rijksmuseum, 1990, 19–46.

2. See Antonio Morassi, Guardi: I Dipinti, 2 vols., Venice, 1984.

3. Giuliana Beregan, Fabulous Hats: the History of Hats. Ravenna, 2007, part 11.

 

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