Capriccio with Venetian Motifs, 1760
Oil on canvas, 33 x 51 cm
Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona
Beyond a single column of a ruined portico the spectator looks out upon a large, free-standing house in a landscape reminiscent of the Lagoon. To the left behind the overgrown ruin two other houses can be seen. The right side of the image offers a view of a broad expanse of water with a number of sailing boats, a tower and several undefined buildings in the background. Only a few figures enliven the representation.
Guardi based the composition of his caprice on one of Canaletto's etchings, but as usual, his version of the etching was an extremely free adaptation. He borrowed several motifs and omitted others. The etching in question (private collection) shows a landscape with three arches of an arcade in the foreground, behind which a country house and the ruins of Roman monuments can be seen. Guardi has taken the portico, which Canaletto showed intact, but reduced it to a dilapidated fragment; furthermore he has transformed the rectangular forms of the characteristic house in Canaletto's etching into a much less stately, asymmetrical building with a slanted roof.
The most remarkable divergence from the print is that in Guardi's painting there is not a single allusion to classical antiquity. The Roman triumphal arch and the temple which are not without importance in Canaletto's print are omitted by the younger painter, as is the classical monument before the house on the left. Because of the picturesque effect, Guardi's view of the Lagoon landscapes seems far less fantastic and above all more authentically 'Venetian' than Canaletto's implausible assemblage of Roman monuments and Venetian buildings.
Though the patron or buyer of this painting is not known — as is the case with most of Guardi's work — we may assume that such a typically Venetian version of picturesque nostalgia would have appealed primarily to the city's inhabitants.
The loose brushwork with which the forms are reproduced without clear contours as well as the silver-grey and russet shades which characterize the painting are typical of Francesco Guardi's work in the late 1760s, the period in which his style matured fully.