This small painting by Francesco Guardi depicts in exquisite detail the embassy of the Holy Roman Empire in Venice.
It is set amid the bustle of daily life on the Grand Canal. Washing hangs from balconies, Gondoliers take their boats to and fro, and finely dressed diplomats peer from windows and promenade on the quayside.
Among the many figures a gentleman in a blue coat — probably the ambassador himself — stands at the entrance to the palazzo grandly holding a gold sceptre. Above him hangs the imperial crest of the powerful regime which for centuries dominated most of central Europe.
Guardi is renowned as one of the great eighteenth century Venetian landscapists known as veduta painters. His works were highly popular and influential among the British artists and collectors who visited Venice on their Grand Tour.
This work is a fine example of his mature technique. It combines the detailed precision mastered under the influence of the artist Canaletto with an increasingly expressive use of brushwork, atmosphere and light.
Cleaning of the painting by the museum's conservators has revealed the stunning luminosity of these original effects.
When this painting initially entered the museum's collection, the brilliance of Guardi's technique was not fully visible. The top layer of varnish which covered the painting had severely discoloured, turning brown with age. Excessive retouching of the sky area had also been carried out, made visible under ultra-violet light.
The museum's conservator cleaned the paint surface, removing the old varnish and previous restorations. Tiny black spots in the paint, initially thought to be dirt, were found to be granules of pigment. Similar spots can be seen in other works by the artist, who would have ground and mixed his own paints.
With the full clarity and radiance of Guardi's original work revealed, the painting was re-varnished and placed on display.
Before and after cleaning
Museum conservators have been busy cleaning the image, here is a before and after view of the image: