This scene shows the Dogana da Mar (Customs House), which was built in about 1677, and the entrance to the Grand Canal. Over the gateway to the canal is a golden globe with a weather vane in the shape of Fortune, personified as the mistress of the sea. With almost no land, Venice depended on maritime trade for its existence, and Fortune’s billowing sail indicates that the winds of fortune are inconstant. A little further back, boats arrive at the harbour and sailors unload cargo and pay customs charges to enter the city’s waterways.
Guardi has captured movement with animated brushwork – the hardworking merchants and fishermen are made up of skilful flicks of thickly applied paint – and used thinner layers of paint to capture the effects of changing light on the water. Buildings and masts, described using rough black lines, seem to pierce the light, cloudy sky.
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These two paintings were made as pendants, or companion pieces, and would have hung together.