Canaletto meets Guardi: two artists rapresenting the same view from the Molo towards the Basilica della Salute​

6 August 2021

Venice, 4th of August 2021- The encounter between Canaletto and Guardi turns out in a comparison view that from the molo of St. Mark expands all the way up and beyond the Basilica della Salute. On Friday, August 6, the Giorgio Franchetti art Gallery at the Ca' d'Oro opens its doors to “Canaletto incontra Guardi. Vedute veneziane a confronto: il Molo verso la Basilica della Salute"a tribute to the city of Venice on occasion of the celebrations for its foundation: 421-2021. The exhibition in which takes part, as an exceptional “guest”, the view of Canaletto depicting "the Molo to the West with the Zecca and the column of San Teodoro" from the Civica Pinacoteca of Castello Sforzesco in Milan, will be open until October 24. The loan is the result of a temporary exchange between the two museums on the occasion of the exhibition held simultaneously in Milan and dedicated to the Italian sculpture of the Renaissance (“Il Corpo e l’Anima da Donatello a Michelangelo. Scultura italiana del Rinascimento”, Castello Sforzesco 21 July-24 October).

The temporary exhibition of the canvas of Canaletto, next to the painting by Francesco Guardi which has the same subject (owned by the Franchetti collection), offers the possibility of juxtaposing two extraordinary Venetian views, among the most appreciated by aristocratic tourists on the Grand Tour, by directly comparing two “still images” (and two different pictorial concepts of urban portraits) of absolute protagonists of 18th century lagoon landscape painting. On one hand, Canaletto’s luminous version, of large, spectacular breadthand and flawless coherence of perspective, resulting from the painter’s maturity and that can be dated before 1742, on the other the vibrant lyrical interpretation offered by Francesco Guardi in an advanced phase of his work, by then far removed, in its fantastic indeterminateness, from the clear rigour that had sealed, in a sunny image, “as if engraved in crystal” (A. Mariuz), Canaletto’s Venice in the perception of travellers and collectors of the time. In the perspective, captured by the two artists, buildings that embody the history of Venice itself are condensed and help, accompanying, those who watch the canvas discover its changes and its urban persistence, in a journey back in time which this year celebrates its 1600 years from the foundation of the legendary city.

Firstly, in both, attention is focused on the column of San Teodoro (which recalls the origins of the city and the veneration of the Holy Saint of the Byzantine liturgy), then our gaze widens to the string of buildings overlooking the shore of the molo: from the southern corner of the Sansovinian Library, with the soaring marbles as crowning element placed on the edge of the cornice and completing the monumental structure, to the front facade of the Zecca, in front of which the ancient market of fish and poultry took place; and then again to the austere block of the Granai di Terranova, which housed the warehouses for the storage of cereals (destroyed in the Nineteenth century to make room for the Royal Gardens) and, at the end of the fondamenta, to the small building of the Fonteghetto della Farina, where the resale of the precious grinded product took place, becaming in the eighteenth century the headquarters of the Academy of Painters. Beyond the entrance of the Grand Canal stands Punta della Dogana with the majestic domes of the Basilica della Salute by Baldassare Longhena, impressive ex-voto built to save the city from the plague of 1630 and further away, in the background, half-hidden from the sailboat in Canaletto's painting, and clearly visible in the Guardi's canvas, the other important religious building linked to the terrible disease, the Redentore.

On the shore and on the water, recounted by both the artists, the daily life of the Serenissima is teeming: from the boats docking and unloading the goods to the canopies of the market stalls crawling with furnishings, till the representation of the busy or idle daily life. Elegant ladies walk on the fondamenta in Guardi's painting – darting shapes, briefly sketched in thin strokes and quick taps of color- while the Canaletto offers more accurate pieces of "still-life" en plein air, as the one representing some baskets and barrels, and an empty chair on the shore or the one on the right with a group of man and a gentleman, depicted from behind, with his tricorn hat and three men in Eastern dress, also rapresented by Bernardo Bellotto in his canvas.

Preeminent figures, on both paintings, are the light and the sky: a warm and cozy representation of Venice that best suits the image of the charming naturality, so dear to the rational taste of the enlightenment, in the painting of Canaletto; an emotional transfiguration with almost a pre-romantic spirit, in the reinterpretation of Guardi, where the emphasis of the atmospheric values and the changing light of the clouds, that run fast in the sky, throws shimmering strokes on every detail of the portrayal. 

In the perspective of a widen itinerary, from the museum to the land, visits and guided tours starting from the art gallery, and from the exhibition and reaching the places narrated in the eighteenth-century canvases would be planned, in a comparison through which only a city like Venice, with its light and its games of reflections, can return a reality even more evocative than the one painted.