An Altar-Piece and Other Figure Paintings by Francesco Guardi

Download An Altar-Piece and Other Figure Paintings by Francesco Guardi

Post on 07-Apr-2017




0 download

Embed Size (px)


<ul><li><p>An Altar-Piece and Other Figure Paintings by Francesco GuardiAuthor(s): Michelangelo MuraroSource: The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 100, No. 658 (Jan., 1958), pp. 3-10+13Published by: The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd.Stable URL: .Accessed: 04/12/2014 20:25</p><p>Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms &amp; Conditions of Use, available at .</p><p> .JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range ofcontent in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new formsof scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact</p><p> .</p><p>The Burlington Magazine Publications Ltd. is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend accessto The Burlington Magazine.</p><p> </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 4 Dec 2014 20:25:57 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>THE BURLINGTON MAGAZINE NUMBER 658 VOLUME C JNUARY 1958 </p><p>MICHELANGELO MURARO </p><p>An Altar-piece and other Figure Paintings </p><p>by Francesco Guardi </p><p>THE exhibition of Ioo Venetian drawings from the Janos Scholz collection, New York, was inaugurated on 2nd August 1957 at the Art Historical Institute, Giorgio Cini Founda- tion, in Venice. One of these drawings (Fig.5) is Francesco Guardi's preparatory study for an overdoor, showing a little bridge beside a half-ruined tower, a few houses and trees, and the usual macchiette beneath a cloudy sky.' The chief interest of this drawing, for students of Guardi's work, lies in the fact that on the reverse is drawn the outline of the frame of an altar-piece, with a note in Francesco's handwriting of certain Venetian measurements in oncie and piedi and this inscription: Vano osia Lume della Palla dell'altare Maggiore dei SS: Pietro, e Paulo nella Parocchia di Roncegno (Fig.4). The first time I saw this drawing and inscription, in New York, I determined to make investigations in Roncegno, although I had little hope of finding the painting in question because of the damage and disturbance caused in the Valsugana during the first World War, and also because it seemed unlikely that a work by Francesco Guardi could have been overlooked, especially in a health resort like Roncegno, much visited for its baths and for its pine woods. The trouble I took to verify the manuscript notes could not have been more highly rewarded: the altar-piece was still there and, one may say, perfectly preserved. In order to make the picture more widely known I at once arranged with the local authorities for it to be shown at the exhibition in Venice, side by side with the drawing which had provided the clue to its discovery, since I was convinced that this painting, perhaps more than any other, could be of valuable assistance in resolving some fundamental problems in the controversial matter of Guardi's </p><p>ouvre. The altar-piece represents the titular saints of the </p><p>Church of Roncegno, St Peter and St Paul adoring the Trinity (Fig.2). Anyone acquainted with the drawings in the Correr Museum will remember the fluted column which appears on the left in the Roncegno painting (Inv. No.603i), and a pre- paratory study for the two cherubs shown almost in the centre of the altar-piece (Figs.3, 7). The figures of the Saints are in the iconographical tradition of Sebastiano Ricci, but the grandeur of their presentation suggests a possible in- spiration from Jacopo Bassano's altar-piece with the same Saints, once in the Church of the Umilta in Venice and now </p><p>preserved in the Galleria Estense at Modena. The group of the Trinity recurs in a small altar-piece by Francesco in Vienna and, perhaps more precisely, in the picture of St. John of Matha which I found some years ago2 at Pasiano di Pordenone, and which I still believe to have been painted in collaboration by Gian Antonio and Francesco Guardi (Figs.6, io). </p><p>Let us consider in some detail the Roncegno picture which, for its size as well (300 by 150 cm) may be considered as one of Francesco's most unusual works. We notice the exquisitely pictorial effect of the red binding which stands out against the white and gilt pages of the open book; the arabesques of black shrubs in the foreground, lit here and there by gleams of white; the reds shimmering into yellows, and the blues of St Peter's robe; the greens shot through with yellow lights and the folds of glowing amaranth in the robes of St Paul, who leans upon an enormous sword, its hilt adorned with gold (Fig.9). The tilt of this sword has obviously been altered by the artist; it originally reached the ground nearer to the Saint's left foot. The gleams in the stormy sky (reminiscent of the Verona Capricci and of other later works by Francesco) contrast with the blue-green of the back- ground, at times but a transparent veil over the underlying burnt-brick priming. The group of the Trinity acquires effects of greater distance through the luminosity of the pale yellows and the transparent blues of the globe and of the drapery. Whereas the two angels' heads near the dove seem woven of light, the two pairs of cherubs at each side of the Trinity are dark and opaque; they were, in fact, added by another hand at a later stage, and will be mentioned again, as a decisive factor in establishing the date of the altar-piece. </p><p>This Roncegno painting presents no single detail which could be quoted as evidence against its attribution to Francesco Guardi. Characteristic are the rosy tipped clouds, the drapery with its angular folds, the high lights of gleaming yellow, the porous quality of the whites which resist the invasion of colour as in other works by Francesco, the mysterious impasti in which every brush-stroke seems to con- tain a fabulous range of colour, and above all, the figure of St Paul (Fig.8), whose ample robe quivers like a landscape - one of the most intense and revealing expressions of Francesco Guardi's art. In this altar-piece the artist has risen to the height of his vast composition, presenting every element in its own restless dynamic force. The superimposed planes of vision overlap in the vibrant atmosphere. The cloud that presses forward and obscures the column, the halo round </p><p>1 M. MURARO: 'Cento disegni veneti della CollezioneJanos Scholz,' Catalogo della Mostra, Venice [1957], No.92, p.53, pl.92 A-B-C. White paper. Drawing in charcoal, pen and brown ink, 1 6 by 215 mm. The outline drawn around the view leads one to suppose it is a preparatory study for the decoration of an overdoor. Signed in the left-hand bottom corner: f' Guardi. On the reverse, notes of measurements written in pen and ink: Piedi 2, onzie 4, 2 oncie, Piedi N.2: On: 3, 2 onzie and the outline of the frame of an altar-piece with a note in Francesco Guardi's handwriting transcribed above. Photo, Negativi fotografici Giorgio Cini 10499-10500. 2 M. MURARO: 'NovitA su Francesco Guardi', Arte Veneta, HI [1949], p.123. </p><p>3 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 4 Dec 2014 20:25:57 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p></p></li><li><p>AN ALTAR-PIECE AND OTHER FIGURE PAINTINGS BY FRANCESCO GUARDI </p><p>Christ's head in which the Cross is lost in a mist of light, are devices for presenting the spectator with ever-receding planes. This superimposing of planes reminds us of the words of Benedetto Marcello, Vivaldi's enemy and the champion of the more conservative style in music, when he parodied the theatrical painters whom he detested: 'The modern painter', he writes, 'need not understand perspective, architecture, drawing, chiaroscuro, etc.: for he arranges his architectural scenes not upon one or two planes, but on four, or even six, adjusting them in various ways, so that the spectator's eye may be all the more gratified by this variety'.3 In just this </p><p>way, Francesco Guardi deliberately multiplies his scenic effects so as to embrace a vision that can no longer be defined as classical or subject to strict perspective laws, but are </p><p>deliberately spatial. The Roncegno altar-piece is unsigned, and I have not yet </p><p>been able to find the contract for its commission. I am still </p><p>looking for it in the Episcopal archives of Feltre, to which diocese the church at that time belonged. However, even if the name of the artist should never come to light in the sur- </p><p>viving documents, there can be no shadow of doubt that the </p><p>painting is by Francesco Guardi, as the Scholz sketch con- firms. Besides being one of the most monumental works he </p><p>painted, it offers the possibility of a precise dating - which makes it particularly important for the student of his work. In fact it must have been painted many years after the death of his elder brother Gian Antonio (22nd January I760), so that in this case there can arise no such controversy as still </p><p>rages around Vigo d'Anaunia and the Church of the Angelo Raffaele. </p><p>The present Church of Roncegno was built through the efforts of the parish priest Francesco Bruni. He is still famous in that region for the way in which he managed to collect the funds necessary for its erection, going around begging through the valleys of the Trentino and even as far as Venice. The grandiose building was certainly more than the village could afford out of its own resources. In fact, when the </p><p>good priest died in 1776 it still seemed impossible to replace the humble, provisional campanile with one more in keeping with the rest of the building. Until 1888 (for only in that year was the new belfry erected) the neighbouring villages con- tinued to mock Roncegno with the taunt still familiar to all: </p><p>'Roncegno, cesa grande e campanil de legno'.4 The first stone of the parish church had been laid on </p><p>23rd April 1758. On I2th December 1772, writes a con- </p><p>temporary 'the altar table was placed in position and the </p><p>parish priest Francesco Bruni had the joy of blessing it and initiating and continuing the ecclesiastical functions in this </p><p>church'.5 The writer refers, not to the grand marble altar which was built only after the priest's death, but to the rudi- </p><p>mentary table of the provisional altar. Even after the Church of Roncegno got its roof in 1772 the interior must have looked almost bare; Montebello himself reports that in 1793 it was 'still far from complete'. An episcopal letter dated </p><p>gth December 1776 authorizes the painting of the Via Crucis, which we know to have been blest on 2nd May I777. The fourteen Stations of the Cross had been painted by a mediocre </p><p>craftsman, whose name has remained unknown; the same hand painted the portrait of the priest, Francesco Bruni, still to be seen in the Presbytery, and, in a very maladroit manner added the four cherubs mentioned above to Francesco's </p><p>altar-piece. It is precisely because of this circumstance that we can assign the picture to about the year 1777. </p><p>As we see from the inscription on the Scholz drawing, as soon as the grand marble altar was placed in position Francesco Guardi must have made notes in situ of the dimensions and outline of the picture which he had been asked to paint. He was therefore in the Trentino on several occasions, and not only in I778 and 1782, the dates proved by the document found by De Maffei6 and the notes on the Manfroni landscapes.7 After his brother's death he was called </p><p>upon to supervise the property inherited in the Mastellina; it is therefore probable that he paid frequent visits to the </p><p>province of his forefathers. The lakes and mountains of the Trentino inspired many of his drawings and capricci, and were always present to his mind. Certain phrases of Monte- </p><p>bello, when describing the Valsugana (where 'lakes, rivers, woods and wild countryside were lost in silent solitude... among the mists which rose from the marshes') help us to understand the character of some of Guardi's landscapes. </p><p>The Church of Roncegno was consecrated on Ist July 1782 by the Bishop of Feltre, Andrea Ganassoni, but work went on in it for some decades longer. Not until 1796 did Giacomo Caminada8 construct the elegant pulpit. In 1804 Dr. Francesco Trogher bought in Trent a seventeenth-century painting for the altar of the Annunciation, after having erected, also at his own expense, the altar to Our Lady.9 As always in the case of Francesco Guardi's works, even the </p><p>altar-piece at Roncegno, as we have already remarked, seems bereft of any specific documents. In the archives of the church we find the painting only mentioned disparagingly; 'There are no artistic or precious objects in the Parish Church of Roncegno', is the report on the occasion of one pastoral visit, 'nor is it known that there ever were any'. In the ecclesiastical inventory drawn up by the parish priest Francesco Meggio in I9IO the principal altar, ten metres </p><p>high, is mentioned as 'the finest ornament in the whole church'. The altar-piece is briefly dealt with: 'The Trinity is very pleasing, not so the figures of the Apostles. There is a </p><p>plan to replace this altar-piece' continues the narrator, 'with </p><p>another, and the altar certainly deserves a better'. In August 1915, during the first World War, Roncegno </p><p>was bombed'0 and some shell splinters struck the painting, causing slight damage to the cloud beneath the figure of Christ, to the head of St Peter, and St Paul's right leg. The </p><p>altar-piece was taken to Trent to be restored by the artist </p><p>Ady Werner (1925) under the direction of the Soprinten- denza alle Belle Arti. It was declared to be the work of a </p><p>good painter, and the parish priest wrote that it was 'pleasant to look at'. We do not know how it was that Francesco Bruni had been able to obtain for the high altar of his church a </p><p>3 B. MARCELLO: II teatro alla moda, Venice [1887]. 4 0. BRENTARI: Guida del Trentino, Bassano [I891]; OBEROSLER: Bagni di Roncegno; Guida illustrata del Trentino, Trent [1902]. 5 G. A. MONTEBELLO: Notizie storiche, topograficdle e religiose della Valsugana e di </p><p>Primiero, Rovereto [17931, p.305. </p><p>6 F. DE MAFFEI: Gian Antonio Guardi pittore difigura, Verona [1948]. </p><p>7 P. PANIZZA: Francesco Guardi, Trent [1912]. 8 S. WEBER: Artisti trentini e artisti che operarono nel Trentino, Trent [1933], P-45- It is Weber who gives us the name of the architect of the church of Roncegno, Carlo Bianchi. 9 These and other items of information here quoted come from documents </p><p>preserved in the parish church of Roncegno. 10 A. MOSCHETTI: I danni ai monumenti e alle opere d'arte delle Venezie nella guerra mondiale, 19z5-18, Venice [x932], p.605- </p><p>4 </p><p>This content downloaded from on Thu, 4 Dec 2014 20:25:57 PMAll use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions</p><p>ht...</p></li></ul>