VI. THE ARTISTS

Italy hardly needed Winckelmann’s exhortations, for she honored her gods, and her accumulated art served in each generation as a school of discipline for a thousand artists from a dozen lands. Carlo Marchionni designed the palatial Villa Albani (1758), into which Cardinal Albani, guided by Winckelmann, gathered a world-famous collection of antique sculptures-still rich after many rapes. (Napoleon stole 294 of the pieces for France; hence, perhaps, an Italian saying of those days, Non tutti francesi sono la-troni, ma Buona Parte—not all Frenchmen are thieves, but a good part of them are.)

Venice produced nearly all the leading Italian painters of these years, and three of them inherited already famous names. Alessandro Longhi, son of Pietro, illustrated the genius of his people with some delicate portraits, including two of Goldoni.71 We have seen Domenico Tiepolo accompanying his father to Augsburg and Madrid, and modestly offering his specialty to the common stock. In the guest house of the Villa Valmarana he struck out for himself with genre scenes from rural life, Peasants Reposing is an idyl of dropped tools and restful ease. After his father’s death in Spain Domenico returned to Venice, and gave his own style of humorous realism free rein.72

Francesco Guardi, brother-in-law to Giambattista Tiepolo, learned painting from his father, his brother, and Canaletto. He missed acclaim in his generation, but his vedute caught critical eyes by seizing and conveying subtleties of light, and moods of atmosphere, which may have given some hints to French Impressionists. He did not wait for Constable’s caution, “Remember that light and shade never stand still.”73 Perhaps his favorite hour was twilight, when lines were blurred, colors merged, and shadows were dim, as inGondola on the Lagoon.74 Venetian skies and waters seemed designed to offer such misty, melting views. Sometimes, we are told, Guardi carried his studio into a gondola, and moved on the minor canals to catch unhackneyed scenes. He painted the human figures carelessly, as if he felt that they were evanescent minutiae beside the solid architecture and the changing yet persistent sea and sky. But he could picture men too, crowding the Piazzetta in some gala Festival,75 or moving in stately dress in the great Sala dei Filarmonici.76 In their lifetime his brother Giovanni was rated the better painter, and Canaletto greater than either; today Francesco Guardi promises to outlive them both.

Anton Raphael Mengs returned from Spain in 1768, and was soon lord of the studios in Rome. Hardly anyone questioned his supremacy among contemporary artists. Crowned heads angled for his brush, sometimes in vain. Winckelmann called him the Raphael of his age, praised his deadly Parnassus as a masterpiece before which “even Raphael would have bowed his head,”77 and injected into the History of Ancient Art a superlative estimate of his friend.78

The best of Mengs’s paintings in this period is his self-portrait (1773?).79 It shows him still vigorous, handsome, black-haired, proud at forty-five. After a second stay in Spain Mengs returned (1777) to spend his declining years in Italy. He continued to prosper, but the death of his wife (1778) broke his once buoyant spirit. A variety of ailments weakened him, and his resort to quack doctors and miraculous cures completed his physical ruin. He died in 1779 at the age of fifty-one. His disciples raised to his memory a cenotaph in the Pantheon, beside the monument to Raphael. Today there is no critic so poor to do him reverence.

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