provenance: 1st Earl of Camperdown; 2nd Earl of Camperdown, 1859-1867; Lady Julia Duncan, Baroness Abercromby, 1867-1915; Georgina Wilhelmina Mercer-Henderson, Countess of Buckinghamshire; Acquired by Calouste Gulbenkian at auction at Christie’s, London, 11th March 1919.
description: Considered to be one of Guardi’s masterpieces, the veduta represents St Mark’s Square decorated in preparation for Venice’s most sumptuous festival, the Festa della Sensa. This event took place on Ascension Day and celebrated the symbolic marriage between Venice and the sea, an evocation of the ancient victory that gave the city naval control over the Adriatic.
Besides the basilica, the painting also shows the bell tower, the clock tower and, just visible on the right, the buildings that housed the Procurators of San Marco, partially covered by temporary arcades where the finest Venetian crafts were displayed.
In a painting imbued with striking atmospheric effects, the painter creates a fantastic, theatrically dynamic space, replete with contrasts, giving the impression that everything is alive and immediate. The characters in the foreground, who are skilfully distributed around the festive ‘setting’, add movement and a sense of feverish agitation to the whole.