This canvas is one in a series of twelve, ten of which are now in the Louvre. Each represents an historic event connected with the celebration of the election of Doge Alviso Mocenigo in 1763. After directing the ceremony of the wedding of the sea, the doge goes to San Nicolò to attend mass before returning to Venice. He makes ready to board the Bucentaur after having passed under a canopy raised for the occasion.
Guardi and Canaletto before him depicted this splendid ceremony with the doge's galley hung with flying red cloths and covered with gilded statues. Smaller boats, also gilded, and black gondolas provide escort.
From the 12th century, on the occasion of the Feast of the Ascension ("Sensa" in Venetian), the doge conducted the "wedding of the sea" ceremony by throwing a ring from the Bucentaur ceremonial galley into the Adriatic. Accompanied by a floating procession, he crossed the San Marco Basin to the Lido, where the Venetian lagoon debouches into the sea. The doge threw a golden ring into the waves to acknowledge the maritime supremacy of the city and then attended mass.
The Venetian republic had the last Bucentaur, the one depicted here, built in 1728. This wonder of craftsmanship met a miserable end in 1797, when Napoleon's troops destroyed it.
The painter illustrates the moment where the doge makes ready to board the Bucentaur after having passed under a canopy raised between the church and the landing for the occasion. It is a crowded scene: gondolas of all sorts converge on the lagoon, forming patches of color that stand out against the tender green of the sea; masked figures bustle with excitement, evoking the carnival celebrations.
The expansive sky of the upper portion, bathed in silver light, is contrasted with the lower half, which swarms with forms and multicolored details. The touches of lighter color impart a special animation to the scene.
Guardi was inspired by 1776 engravings of drawings on this same subject by Canaletto, whose drier and more static style indicates a concern for topographical accuracy. Guardi freely interpreted these scenes with a sparkling touch and calculated atmospheric effects. The scene provided an opportunity to create an atypical description of Venice and its monuments in a silvery, diaphanous luminosity. The work is bathed in a mobile play of light, as whimsical as it is fleeting.
The work could not have been painted before 1775, as the panaches worn by the female figures in the boats didn't emerge as a Parisian fashion until that date. The paintings created by Guardi during the preceding decade are more topographical and their somber hues more contrasting.
The evolution of Guardi's pictorial language, energetic and sketchy, is striking. A mellow light rhythmically divides the spaces and diffuses the colors in a varied play of chiaroscuro and a lively touch. In the hands of Guardi, the "vedute," or views, topographical depictions of urban landscape, take on a brilliant and whimsical allure.