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As a writing recalls , the exceptional eighteenth-century painting cycle of the church of Selva del Montello was donated by Francesco Petropoli in 1819, which emerged during the restoration of the painting depicting Moses striking the cliff.
The cycle is edited in the documentation of the historical archive of the Curia of Treviso, which preserves the testimonies of the pastoral visits that the bishops of Treviso performed over the centuries in the religious buildings of the diocese, which constitute for the artistic heritage of the territory a very useful source , while Selva’s paintings are mentioned in the eighteenth-century pastoral visits, and in 1779 the Petropolis family of which we are reminded and to whome the cycle is donated to the Montellian church.
It dates back to the pastoral visit made by the bishop Paolo Giustiniani on 23 May 1779, the date of the consecration of the sacred building, the mention of the presence in the territory of the parish of Selva also of an “Oratory of Signor Antonio Petropoli, Venetian merchant”.
The assignment to the parish of the property of the oratory is derived from the deeds of the pastoral visit of March 9, 1885 of the bishop Giuseppe Apollonio.
Only in the decree of the visit of Bishop Giacinto Longhin of 8 February 1925 of the parish church of Selva are mentioned for the first time. In fact, it refers to six paintings of the Tepelian school to adorn the presbytery with facts from the Old Testament.
To these indications other data are added taken from the Archive of the Superintendence for Artistic and Historical Heritage of the Veneto, which allow us to reconstruct the recent history of the pictorial cycle.
A note of 18 March 1918 indicates six paintings along the walls of the High Altar aligned with Tiepolo and representatives of the Bible, such as the Fall of the manna in the desert, the Jewish people worshiping the bronze serpent, Moses adopted by the daughter of the pharaoh, Moses striking the cliff.
However, the Tepelian attribution does not find consent from the superintendent Gino Fogolari who takes care of Selva’s paintings as part of the extensive programme to safeguard works of art exposed to the dangers of the First World War, indicating the likely author of the Zompini, a follower of Tiepolo. In July 1930 the church of Selva is hit by a cyclone that causes irreparable damage to the artistic heritage of the parish community.
The canvases are mentioned in a note dated 25 July 1930 sent by the parish priest to the superintendent, explaining that of the six lateral paintings, already wartime in war time, only two remained intact, the other four were severely lacerated.
On 13 August of the same year all the paintings of the church of Selva were listed as state property and therefore withdrawn by the Superintendency to be kept in the deposits of the Palazzo Ducale in Venice. Of the numerous paintings that were withdrawn, some were restored over the following decades, while the six large canvases depicting the Stories of Moses were kept in storage. The following is the story of our days, when the recognition of the property and the possibility of carrying out the restoration allowed their return to the owner’s authority. This therefore finally offered the possibility of making known to a wider public this pictorial cycle which constitutes an exceptional presence in the whole territory of Treviso.
As already noted, the words “MUNUS FRANCISCI PETROPOLI, AN. MDCCCX1X” reappeared in the painting “Moses that makes water pour from the rock”. The name is that of a Venetian family owner of an oratory in Selva, and , therefore, would have donated the paintings to the church in 1819.
That the paintings come from another place is shown by the obvious cuts suffered on the sides, to adapt them to the spaces of the presbytery, with absolutely no knowledge from where they came from, already that was the era in which the paintings of suppressed churches, sold by the public domain and destined, mostly, to the mainland churches. In the same parish church of Selva the side altars were remains of demolished Venetian churches.
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The Guardi family has been an important family of painters who for three generations has created artistic works between Veneto, Lombardy and Vienna, works of rococo and landscape painting, thanks to which they have left us an evocative image of Venice, a city that was their main residence.
Their pictorial activity covers a period of time that goes from the second half of the 17th century to the first half of the 18th century.
The family, originally from Commezzadura in the Val di Sole in the province of Trento, sees Guardo de Guardi as the progenitor, who sent his first son Domenico to Vienna from a canonical uncle of St. Stephen’s Cathedral to start his career in art. Of the five children, however, the best known are certainly Gianantonio (1699-1760) and especially Francesco (1712-1793), whose formation and much of his activity until 1760 took place together with his elder brother, Giannantonio, who led a family-run shop, where all were painters, from the father to the brothers. It is not known with certainty tas to when he began his work as a landscape painter, perhaps around 1755. Guardi begins to realize the first landscapes for foreign visitors during the time in which Canaletto had moved to England. The first works follow the compositions of Canaletto and Marieschi, the painting is still fluid and controlled, far from the sparkling and shorthand that will instead make it famous. With respect to his brother he manifests a different sensibility with a brushstroke that will become quick and broken with sparkling doughs of colour, which reveal a vivid chromatic tone that can make the link between figures and atmosphere. The interest in the landscape soon led him to approach the landscape painting of which he proposed a personal interpretation that eliminates the “photographic” and documentary component for an atmospheric rendering capable of making the particular vibration of the light of the lagoon. Thus masterpieces were born such as the two views of Ca ‘d’Oro or those preserved in museums all over the world. In 1782 he obtained the official task of performing the paintings in memory of the celebrations for the visits of Pope Pius VI and the Russian archduches Paolo Petrovic and Maria Teodorovna, works that testify to his ability to make life and the rhythm of his city.
Over time his personal style becomes increasingly free and allusive: the proportions between the various elements are freely altered, the perspective structure becomes elastic and deforms without any connection with reality. Finally the figures become simple spots of colour, a quick white scribble or a black dot traced with a flickering sign. In addition to the whims, he also paints some splendid images of villas immersed in the green of the Venetian countryside and the traditional Venetian shots alongside those of the lagoon, widening the horizons of eighteenth-century Venetian vedutism until it is dissolved in vast expanses of sky and water . After his death in 1793, Francesco Guardi falls into oblivion and his rediscovery is due to the twentieth century criticism.
Regarding his Brother Gianantonio there are few and fragmented data about the biography, especially regarding the private life and the youthful years. This is perhaps due to the fact that the personal and artistic story of Gianantonio took place in an era and in an environment that reserved him a lack of attention and an equally modest consideration. To this must be added the aggravating circumstance of a total oblivion that has engulfed the life and work of the artist for more than a century and a half, for a rediscovery, which began only in the second decade of the twentieth century, giving him a foremost place in the eighteenth-century artistic canon, not only Venetian, but also European, but also European, thanks to a more sensitive criticism of modernity that has been recognized in the major works of the painter, who contributed to his growing historical-artistic revaluation.
Audio for the two works of Francesco Guardi
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THE TWO WORKS OF FRANCESCO GUARDI
“The Moses that causes water to flow from the rock” is the famous episode of water from the rock, or the event of Massa and Meriba, also reported in chapter 17 of the book of Exodus together with the fight against Amalek. Tangible experience that the life of plants, human beings and animals can exist only if water is available, in fact, it is synonymous with life and where life is lacking risks or struggles to establish itself. Proof of this are the deserts. Who crosses them without water supplies or not having precise knowledge where they can find it risks their life due to dehydration and those who live on the borders of deserts in semi-desert areas know all their facets.
“The Fall of the manna” food that, according to the biblical story, fell from the sky on the Jews who crossed the desert. The manna in the Torah (Hebrew word meaning teaching) refers to the nourishment of the people of Israel, during the long wandering in the desert for forty years, after the liberation from Egyptian slavery. And Moses said to them, “This is the bread that the Lord has given you for food. Here is what the Lord has prescribed in this regard: gathering each one according to his own needs … “
Both paintings by Francesco Guardi derive from the correspondent compositions by Giannantonio Pellegrini, found in the Serpouchov Russian museum, and a sketch is also known, owned by Myron Laskin in Los Angeles, characterized by a moving and emphatic composition, all played on the grandeur of the figure of the protagonist, and for a violent and unequal pictorial drawing. That of Francesco Guardi is a life marked by the continuous comparison with the Canaletto, as witnessed in the inscriptions “emulo del Canaletto” that appear in some of his works. An extraordinary artist, little appreciated in life and rediscovered only in the nineteenth century with his almost pre-Romantic vein.
Francesco Guardi and painting, a relationship that went through almost all the eighteenth century, often putting his Venice at the centre. Francesco Guardi, an artist to whom the term vedutist is very close, will be rediscovered in its grandeur thanks perhaps to a new idea of modernity that finds in the Rococo touch an audacity that will then be taken up by the broken and chromatically intense sign of Impressionist painting. The Guardi does not aim in his paintings to results of clear perception, but proposes an interpretation of the subjective and evocative data, creating evanescent and unreal images with the flaking of the forms and melancholic penumbra. He is an artist who has gone through an era by opening a glimpse into the future, precisely because of his ability to interpret nature and not to represent it.
A special thanks to architect Alessandro Facchin and the Selva Nostra association for the texts elaboration
A special thanks to the voice of Giulia Zanetti and Roman Mandziy for the audio