This apparently unrecorded canvas, which exemplifies the atmospheric qualities for which Guardi is most admired, is a work of his full maturity as a view-painter, datable to the 1770s. It shows from the left, on the Fondamenta di San Simeone Piccolo, a house now remodelled and the now-reconstructed Casa Asoldo: beyond this is Giovanni Antonio Scalfarotto’s domed neo-classical church of San Simeone Piccolo and a sequence of houses, including the Palazzo Emo Diedo, with the Ponte della Croce leading to the Fondamenta della Croce, the houses on which were to make way for Piazzale Roma. Opposite are a sequence of now-demolished buildings on the Fondamenta Santa Lucia and the church of that saint, the name of which is preserved in that of the railway station. The view point is from the Canal close to the church of the Scalzi. On the right is a long boat with passengers standing to cross the Canal, the traghetto. These crossed from fixed points and some survive, but that near the Scalzi became obsolete when the modern bridge was built.
Canaletto had painted two pictures of the subject at the same angle but from further back, thus including the Scalzi on the right, one in the Royal Collection, the second in the National Gallery: Guardi would have known Visentini’s engraving of the former, published in 1735 and reissued in 1742 and 1751. Guardi’s earliest exploration of the subject is in a large (37.5 x 62.5 cm.), signed drawing in a private collection at Zurich (fig. 1; A. Morassi, Guardi, I disegni, Venice, 1973 [reprinted 1984], no. 385), which Morassi regarded as part of a series intended for engravings. This follows Canaletto’s composition in showing additional houses on the left and the church of the Scalzi opposite these. That this picture follows the drawing is demonstrated by the fact that the two most prominent boats here, including the traghetto, correspond with two in the drawing, although the gondola to the right of the centre appeared below San Simeone in the drawing. Both vessels, with that seen near the centre from the stern and the gondola crossing the canal beyond this which do not appear in the drawing, are found in the picture of the subject in the Museo Thyssen, Madrid (A. Morassi, Guardi, I dipinti, Venice, 1975 [reprinted 1984], no. 580, measuring 48 x 78 cm., in which the boat behind the traghetto in the drawing is also introduced). That masterpiece is presumably more or less contemporary with the reduced composition of the subject at Philadelphia (Morassi, op. cit., 1975, no. 579, measuring 67.3 x 91.5 cm.), in which the traghetto, that seen diagonally behind this, and the boat seen from the stern also appear. A further, perhaps marginally less vibrant, picture in the Accademia, Venice (Morassi, op. cit., 1975, no. 578, measuring 63 x 90 cm.) agrees even more closely with the drawing in the arrangement of the boats, but adds the boat seen from the stern which is not found in this. Guardi thus is likely to have referred to the same drawing for all four pictures as well as for reduced variants of the view (e.g. Morassi, op. cit., 1975, nos. 581-3).
Other variants of the view extend further to the right, showing the flank of the church of Santa Lucia and a small pedimented structure to the right of this (see Morassi, op. cit., 1975, nos. 578-9 and 583), while the Thyssen picture shows an additional house on the extreme right: significantly in these compositions the stern of the traghetto is below or close to the façade of Santa Lucia, while in that once with Tooth (Morassi, op. cit., 1975, no. 582), in which only a narrow section of the side of Santa Lucia is shown, this is aligned on the corner of the second house beyond this. That the boat is placed in much the same position in the picture under discussion suggests therefore that the composition did not extend significantly further to the right, and indeed the careful balance between the façade of Santa Lucia on the extreme right of this canvas and the sunlit façade of the house on the extreme left is surely deliberate, as is that between the prows of the two incompletely seen gondolas which advance into our line of vision. Moreover, in this picture the viewer is set somewhat further back, and as a result the dome of San Simeone seems more monumental than in the related pictures, none of which, it should be noted, was signed by the artist.
Both the Thyssen and Accademia pictures were paired with views looking in the opposite direction showing Santa Lucia and the Scalzi from the Fondamenta west of San Simeone Piccolo (Morassi, op. cit., 1975, nos. 585 and 584 respectively). No obvious pair for this picture is known, but the Grand Canal at San Geremia in the Frick Art and Historical Center, Pittsburgh (fig. 2; Morassi, op. cit., 1975, no. 574), which allowing for differences in modes of measuring is fairly close in size (62 x 78.7 cm.), may be a candidate. The implied horizon line is at roughly the same level, and, significantly perhaps, noticeably higher than that of the more horizontal variant of the composition at Munich (Morassi, op. cit., 1975, no. 573).