(Venice 1745 - 1797 Venice)
Venice, the Rialto Bridge from the North, c. 1765
oil on canvas, 36,5 x 84 cm (14.37 x 33.07 inches)
- Reference: 777
- Provenance: Private collection
Several uncertainties persist on the life of Francesco Tironi, starting from his personal details, which are far from being well-defined, despite considerable research by Dario Succi (Francesco Tironi ultimo vedutista del Settecento veneziano, Azzano Decimo 2004) and the specifications of Lino Moretti (Francesco Tironi, in Canaletto. Venezia e i suoi splendori, exhibition catalogue, Treviso, Casa dei Carraresi, 23 October 2008 – 5 April 2009, edited by G. Pavanello and A. Craievich, Venice 2008, pp.206-207).
His is therefore still an open story, and we have to be content with the very few autograph works he left us; we even consider the labels that survived behind his paintings, which offer indirect information on their destiny and on the painter, who is at any rate one of the documented protagonists of Venetian landscape painting of the Settecento. Tironi was one of the first artists to be attentively considered by 20th century scholars; as on other occasions, the Germans acted first, as did Hermann Voss with his pioneering essay (Francesco Tironi. Ein vergessener venezianischer Vedutenmaler, in “Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst”, LXVI, 1927-1928, pp. 266-270.
In the 19thcentury, the fame of Canaletto and Guardi would have weighed on paintings such as the present landscapes, upon entering into a private dwelling, such was the admiration for these artists; at the present time, we can attribute them to their original author with more ease: Francesco Tironi.
As we shall see, the framings are among the foreshortenings of Venice carrying the most figurative reminiscences; we see the backgrounds in the far distance, with colossal stages depicting monumental churches and buildings. They appear clearly to the observer, who instantly captures their atmospheric essence, with the exactness of details that open onto the architecture, but also the dimension of life.
Such a delighted, immediate inclination in the act of describing it – the elongated format further adds to its originality – leads us to identify with the tranquil atmosphere that the master, beyond being a painter, seems to have captured with emotional liveliness.
This foreword is right and proper, since the landscapes we are talking about have been depicted numerous times, and have also been connected with engravings that, as is many other cases, make up the prototype for further painted versions.
Let us consider the work with printed landscapes by Vincenzo Coronelli, Domenico Lovisa and Antonio Visentini; Francesco Tironi himself attended to the twenty-four illustrations dedicated to the Harbours of Venice and the Islands, together with Antonio Sandi: we are faced with a longing for loss, so to speak, since they emerge with the Napoleonic spoliations, and we equally become aware of the author we think about for these works, under the light of regret that catches the gaze of Tironi.
Almost symbolically, the master died when the turn of the century still hadn’t come, in 1797, the same year the Serenissimareached its end.
We are more familiar with the painter, thanks to the research by Dario Succi (Francesco Tironi …, cit.). Tironi’s output equalled the virtuosity of 18thcentury landscape painting - to a certain extent he was also a victim of it – almost reaching the breaking point of the art of illusion, of the occasionally enigmatic suspension of Venetian tradition.
The present paintings certainly do not possess the vibrant mark of a work executed from life, but they do not mislay it either, showing a certain sensitivity to unwavering light, typical of Settecento sensibility. By major category, the work of the artist has been divided into an older Canaletto-inspired phase and another one where Guardi was the inspirer, instead; upon this base, we deem the present painting belonging to the 1760s-1780s.
I may add that Francesco Tironi’s exploration is worthy of a third phase, where his style become correct and clear, typical of the Neoclassic era: bright skies and the usual suspension that remind us of Carlo Grubacs, who was born at the beginning of the new century instead (La Venezia dei Grubacs, edited by F. Magani, Treviso 2017).
It is typical of Tironi to highlight the chromatic tracery of the buildings, making them rich in the expression of the composition, radiating a tender, soft beauty, which may be seen as typical of a natural melancholy that the various character sketches do not stir. The spatial depth of sharp patterns, solidified by an emotional light permeating the colours, can be identified in other works that we can surely attribute to him.
For instance the subjects – the Island of San Giorgio Maggioreand Saint Mark’s Basin towards the Salute– that Dario Succi linked with works in the Matteo Pinelli Collection (Il fiore di Venezia. Dipinti dal Seicento all’Ottocento in collezioni private, Gorizia 2014, pp.244-245), datable towards the end of the 1760s.
Already at the end of the Settecento, young artists had grasped the commercial gain to be obtained from the imitation of Venetian views by famous masters, chiefly Canaletto, and they had engaged in the activity of replicating the most renowned angles in the city. Cases in point are the present paintings, put alongside by a trained eye, who sees no limitations in the repetition of a subject, addressing the principle of optical variation and always putting forward new backdrops in the same place, as if the latter were seen through the deforming lens of a wide angle; alternatively, seen up close, putting dynamism at centre stage.
We should mention the many variations of Canaletto texts that have been produced over time: the artists worked scrupulously at the views of the great Venetian landscape artist, clearly making use of the well-known engravings.
The race with Canaletto inventions, already undertaken, seems to have started with the definitive return of the master to Venice in 1755, a time marked by changing fortunes, certainly not up to the fame he had acquired in London.
Our beautiful views connect on a deeper level, paying homage to the tradition of local landscape painting, so much so that they reach its ways and means. Such a determination thus engages even the operational sphere of the master, who wanted to configure architectonical perspective using the surfaces, made more compact by oil, but then markedthe shapes with brisk watercolours that blend the profiles, making them paradoxically blurrier. This technical approach, quite unique in its own right, reaches its pinnacle in the coating of figures – liquid and darting– which take on a light physical presence, as if intending to hand down the essence of the space of memory.
Such a sensibility is emphasised by the technical quality of the painting – the smaller format and the speed of execution we have talked about – which would verge on being experimental, were they not linked to the imprint of those occasions in which similar paintings were achieved and then sold. (“occasioni di strada”)
The artist adopts a traditional perspectival approach, which favours an open view with a personal emphasis on a view painting à la Michele Marieschi; the overall layout certainly stems from the etchings of Canaletto and Visentini.
These are impressions of spaces filtered by instruments of reproduction which move the view away from aninvolved sense of truth, but which do not forego charging it with conscious sentimental values.
The collection called Urbis Venetiarum prospectus celebriores …(in the 1735 and 1742 editions) is the visual source; the prospect of Charity derives from a model by Canaletto (c. 1730), probably commissioned by the English Consul in Venice, Joseph Smith. They are views of crystalline horizons, well interpreted in the engraving and fully understood in the present works, as well. More precisely, the etching number III bears the inscription Hincex Aede Charitatis, illinc ex Regione S. Vitalis usque ad Telonium.
Francesco Tironi, too, creates a personal version of an ideal Venetian diary, where small format paintings can create a series, much in the same way that Antonio Visentini had conceived the etchings with regards to the original works by Canaletto. This painting is an authentic single picture of the evocative life in the lagoon, which imitates the immediacy of the view with an equally direct technique.
The other result of his engagement is the dialectic, with the best examples that were available back then, already recognisable in the outcome of a view such as The Rialto Bridge with the Camerlenghi Palace, at the centre of Guardi’s attentions, as well, for instance with the work in the Alte Pinakothek in Munich.
Still, Canaletto once again acts as the model for Tironi. The Venetian maestro had dealt with foreshortenings in paintings executed between the fourth and fifth decade of the Settecento, and yet the engraving called Pons Rivoalti ad Occidentem, cum Aedibus Publicis utrique Lateri adjectis began the second part of the series published by Antonio Visentini in 1735.
It might be useful to recall that such perspectives had a new edition with Brustolon in 1763, Prospectuum Aedium Viarumque, an aspect to bear in mind for a renewed interest on that repertoire, which may be a good indication to further restrict the dating of our paintings.
If the prehensile eye of Canaletto painted the face of Settecento Venice, it would keep on being reproduced in ways at the edge of technical reproduction, even before coloured print and photography replaced the market of paintings.
During the first half of the Ottocento, a curious tourist would still love a souvenir for a trip, with the disengaged spirit with which it would be mirrored in daily behaviour.
Tironi, however, seems to seize upon a parallel taste, producing small format images that are truly brisk and practical in their execution, almost wanting to satisfy the sensibility of bourgeois tourists, summarising the image of Venice in its more characteristic, relaxed dimension.