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Jacopo Guarana

(1720 Verona – 1808 Venice)

Jupiter with His Eagle, Thunderbolts in Hand. Black and white chalk, charcoal, stumping, on light brown paper. 55.2 x 41 cm.

Guarana has convincingly portrayed the powerful figure of Jupiter tonans by employing a delicate mixed technique which combines chalk with wiped charcoal and subtle white heightening effects. The intense composition is full of impetuous vitality and Baroque pathos; indeed, the large format itself contributes to the tremendous physical presence of the ferocious god of the sky. Guarana’s robust yet refined style of drawing is an effective means of injecting tension and liveliness into the scene.

Jacopo Guarana lived from a very early age in Venice, where he was apprenticed to Sebastiano Ricci and Giambatista Tiepolo. He became a member of the Venetian painters’ guild in 1744 and was admitted to the Accademia di Pittura e Scultura in 1756. Initial large contracts for the Ca’ Rezzonico and the Scuola Grande di S. Giovanni Evangelista in the years that followed testify to the great artistic prestige he enjoyed. After a brief sojourn in St. Petersburg, where he executed  a ceiling painting in the Winter Palace for Catherine II in 1762, he subsequently became the leading painter of frescoes for the Venetian nobiltà after Tiepolo’s departure for Madrid. Guarana’s  most prominent works include his ceiling paintings in the chiesetta and the banqueting hall of the Doge’s Palace, the paintings for the Villa Pisani in Strà and, as his undisputed masterpiece, the illusionist paintings in the music room of the Ospedaletto, which he executed in 1776/77 together with the architectural painter, Agostino Mengozzi Colonna. Other important commissions were to follow, but the fall of the republic proved a dramatic turning-point in Guarana’s career, since the aristocracy and the clergy largely ceased to provide work. Hence Guarana spent the last years of his life in straitened circumstances and, following his death in 1808, his name and his fame soon fell into oblivion. An evaluation of his extensive painted oeuvre is rendered difficult by the fact that, right up to the present day, an authoritative monograph devoted to an assessment of his works has yet to be published. An added complication is that many of his murals and ceiling frescoes have been lost, while his drawings are extremely rare. Guarana may well have been no more than a spontaneous painter and hence made only sparing use of drawn preparatory studies. In many public collections, moreover, some of his drawings appear under a different name. The present work, for instance, cannot be linked to a known painting, even though there are obvious stylistic similarities with Guarana’s oeuvre, for instance with the ceiling fresco in the Palazzo Morosini.

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