Francesco Lazzaro Guardi

Francesco Lazzaro Guardi (1712-1793), was a prolific 18th Italian painter, of noble family and member of the Venetian School.

He is celebrated second only to Canaletto, in his production of view paintings and among the last practitioners; along with his brothers of the Venetian school.

Guardi was born in Venice into a noble family, originating from Trentino. His father Domenico (1678-1716) and his brothers Niccolò and Gian Antonio (1699-1761), were also painters; the latter inheriting the family workshop after the father’s death in 1716.

In the early part of his career, he collaborated in the production of religious and genre subjects at the family workshop; ran by his older brother Gian Antonio, after his father’s death in 1716.

After Gian Antonio’s death in 1760, Francesco concentrated on view (vedute) and smaller scale imaginary (capricci) painting in both oils and drawings on paper. The earliest of these show the influence of Canaletto, but he gradually adopted a freer and more “impressionistic” style; characterised by small dotting, spirited brush-strokes and freely imagined architecture.

Unfortunately, aristocracy and the very wealthy, still favoured Canaletto’s vision of highly detailed and more accurate depictions and so Gaudi was not to enjoy the same international fame during his own lifetime. Acclaim, came a century later; with the French Impressionist’s admiration of his style.



Francesco Guardi. Portrait by Pietro Longhi (1764)

Francesco Lazzaro Guardi.   5th October 1712 – 1st January 1793.  Portrait by Pietro Longhi (1764). 




Francesco Guardi was born in Venice on the 5th October 1712, into a family of nobility originating from Trentino.

His father Domenico (1678-1716) and his brothers Niccolò (date unknown) and Gian Antonio (1699-1761), were also painters; the latter inheriting the family workshop around the age of seventeen, after the father’s death in 1716.

Few works from the Guardi studio are signed, dated, or reliably documented; resulting in a good deal of scholarly controversy about certain works. Questions have also arisen, on whether he was trained by his elder brother Gian Antonio. Furthermore, there are claims over obvious differences in the styles of the two brothers; inferring that Francesco may have been trained by another master.

In the early part of his career, he collaborated in the production of religious and genre subjects; as well as copies of earlier masters at the family workshop, ran by his older brother Gian Antonio. It was probable that they all contributed as a team, to some of the larger commissions; that were later attributed to Francesco. His sister Maria Cecilia married the pre-eminent Veneto-European painter of his epoch, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo.

Left: Gaudi’s home in Campiello de la Madona, Cannaregio.

His first attributable works are from 1738, for the parish of Vigo d’Anuania, in Trentino. In this period. The first work signed by Francesco is a “Saint Adoring the Eucharist” (c. 1739).

The Story of Tobit.  Around 1750, the Gaudi brothers, received a commission for the small Chiesa dell’Angelo San Raffaele, in the Dorsoduro district of Venice.

This was to decorate the organ loft with a series of panels depicting the  “Story of Tobit”; in which the Archangel Raphael. appears much as the hero of this narrative.

The interest of the painting is in its new technique of colouring, used for all the panels. Gianantonio and Francesco used spiky brushstrokes, that placed needles of colour and short rays of coloured, sparkling light on the canvas. These give only an impression of the scene, resulting is a stunning burst of colours. Gianantonio Guardi, assisted by his brother Francesco, innovated in the handling of colours and  the technique used; but remained otherwise quite traditional and academic in depiction.

Francesco Guardi, did not continue to paint this way, so credit for the discovery and vision, may well have to be given to the enigmatic Gian Antonio; who now, is much less known than his brother Francesco.

Left: “Departure of Tobias and Angel”, Chiesa dell’Angelo San Raffaele (Venice)




On 15 February 1757, he married Maria Mattea Pagani, the daughter of painter Matteo Pagani.

In 1756, his brother Gian Antonio became a founder member of the Fine Art Venetian Academy, possibly through the influence of Giambattista Tiepolo; who was married to the sister of the Guardi brothers. In 1760 his brother Gian Antonio died, but that year also saw the birth of his first son, Vincenzo. His second son, Giacomo, was born four years later, in 1764.


Above: View of the Venetian Lagoon with the Tower of Malghera (late 1770’s)

This is one of of Guardi’s most serene paintings. Guardi created thin, almost transparent layers of paint, with feathery brushstrokes and pale tones to evoke the shimmering quality of the light.


After his father’s death, Guardi turned to view painting. Following Canaletto, he recorded both the architecture of the city and the celebrations of its inhabitants; in both interior and exterior scenes. He became one of the most celebrated artists and painters of Venetian views of the eighteenth century.

However, he soon developed his own style, based on a freer handling of paint. He took particular pleasure in rendering the vibrant atmosphere of Venetian light and its dazzling effect on water. The more ‘impressionistic’ approach of Guardi, also found expression in small-scale imaginary scenes or “capricci”; of which there are many surviving examples, such as “ An Architectural Caprice”.

In 1763, he worked in Murano in the church of San Pietro Martire, finishing a “Miracle of a Dominican Saint“, in a quasi-expressionistic style; clearly influenced by Alessandro Magnasco.

Francesco Guardi’s most important later works, include the series of the “Doge’s Feasts”: twelve canvases celebrating the ceremonies held in 1763, for the election of Doge Alvise IV Mocenigo.

In 1782 Guardi was commissioned by the Venetian government six canvases to celebrate the visit of the Russian Archdukes in the city; of which only two remain and two others for that of Pope Pius VI.

In his later years, Canaletto’s influence on his art diminished, as shown by the ”Piazzetta in the Ca’ d’Oro of Venice”. Around 1778, he painted the severe “Holy Trinity Appearing to Saints. Peter and Paul” in the parish church of Roncegno, Trentino. A stronger attention to colours is present in late works such as the “Concerto of 80 Orphans” of 1782, now in Munich and  in the “Facade of Palace with Staircase” in the Accademia Carrara, Bergamo.


Left: A Caprice with Ruins on the Seashore (1770’s).

This imaginary scene reflects an eighteenth-century fascination with ruins. In it, a once glorious but now ruined folly has been positioned on one of the islands in the Venetian lagoon. Two men dig energetically beside the classical arch, a scene repeated in other paintings by Guardi. He has used the crumbling ruins, emphasised by the trailing greenery and warm light, to evoke an emotional response in viewers, reminding us of the inevitable passage of time.

Guardi painted this in the late 1770s, when he was over 60 years old, and it displays all his ability to suggest form with only a few strokes of paint. The two closest figures are placed in a shaft of light, with the arch acting as a framing device that allows the distant architecture to recede.








Guardi died on the 1st January 1793, aged 80, at his home in Campiello de la Madona, Cannaregio.

Francesco, did not find the fame of Canaletto. Aristocracy, favoured Canaletto’s style of highly detailed and accurate depictions; over his looser impressions. His extremely prolific output seems to have been purchased, mainly by middle-class Venetians and English visitors of modest means. Their recorded statements, show an appreciation for Francesco’s painterly brio and poetic vision; while others criticised these same qualities as poor technique and carelessness; in the depiction of specific sites.  It was to be a century later, when the French Impressionists; so prized the style of his works.

After Francesco’s death, the studio was inherited by his son Giacomo Guardi (1764–1835), who produced a large number of Venetian views, mainly drawings.



Guardi’s painterly style is known as “pittura di tocco” (of touch); for its small dotting and spirited brush-strokes. This looser style of painting had been used by Giovanni Piazzetta and Sebastiano Ricci and recalls, in some religious themes; the sweetened sfumato of Barocci’s Bolognese style.

In this respect, he differs from the more linear and architecturally accurate style of Canaletto’s painting. This style, a century later, would make Guardi’s works highly prized by the French Impressionists.

Canaletto, as a “vedutista”, concentrated on glamorous urban architecture erected by the serene republic. His canvases often have intricate linear and brilliant details and depict Venice in sunny daylight.

In Guardi’s views, the buildings often appear to be melting and sinking into a murky lagoon. He paints clouded skies, above a city at dusk.

These contrasts however, simplify the facts, since Canaletto often painted the drab communal life and neighbourhoods (creating in them some epic artistic qualities), while Guardi did not avoid sometimes painting the ceremonies of Ducal Venice.

Left:  “The Punta della Dogana with S. Maria della Salute” (c 1770)



Ultimately, Guardi’s paintings evoke the final decline of the city; unable to rescue the crumbling Republic, as reflected for example, in the “Fire in the Oil Depot in San Marcuola”.

A few years after Gaudi’s death, came the fall of the republic in 1797. It was fitting depiction of the rapidly declining empire, which had declined, in Napoleon’s assessment, into a “drawing room of Europe“; peopled with casinos, carnivals and courtesans for hire.











             Left: “An Architectural Capriccio”                                                      Right: “Lagoon Capriccio with a Tower



Please see my introductory post, on the Second Golden Age of Art: together with its most important artists: 

 Venetian Artists-18th Century

Foreign Artists working in Venice

Turner in Venice         Whistler in Venice

Monet in Venice


Discover more about Francesco Guardi at Art UK

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Francesco Lazzaro Guardi    Francesco Lazzaro Guardi    Francesco Lazzaro Guardi

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