Giovanni Antonio Guardi was born in Vienna in 1699, the son of Domenico, a painter in Trent. Several obstacles still interfere today with a correct definition of the career of the eldest of the Guardi brothers, as well as of his close and almost irresolvable relation with the work of his younger brother Francesco. As a result, part of the paintings of figures by the two brothers are attributed to one as well as to the other, or are considered the result of their collaboration. Giovanni Antonio's earliest known work is the Saint John Nepomuk in the Cogo Collection in Treviso, which is signed and dated in 1717 (although the inscription could false). This work shows a strong connection to early 18th century Austrian painting which he probably knew through his father. In fact, a large number of the artist's early works are copies, or, in other words, free interpretations, of the Venetian tradition in painting from Titian onwards. Guardi was hired precisely as a copyist, first by Count Giovannelli and later by Marshal Schulenburg, for whom he worked uninterruptedly from 1730 until 1745 for a very low fixed salary. In 1737 Giovanni Antonio executed two lunettes for his uncle, the parish priest of the church at Vigo d'Anaunia (The Sacrilegious Communion of the Bishop of Magdeburg and The Washing of the Feet, the latter inspired by the Tintoretto in San Trovaso), while a third lunette is attributed to Francesco. The Last Supper in the museum of Halle is documented in 1738 (it is based on a prototype by Nicol Grassi in Augsburg). In 1741 Guardi received a commission for the portraits of the members of the Spanish royal family (Hannover, Von der Schulenberg Collection), while between 1741 and 1743 he was commissioned to execute no less than 43 canvases with scenes of Turkish life (about half of them located) that were possibly painted with the help of Francesco and which were based on the models of the French-Flemish painter Van Mour who worked at the court of Constantinople. Documents date to 1750 The Vision of Saint John of Matha, in the parish church at Pasiano di Pordenone, while the painter's masterwork, in San Raffaele Arcangelo in Venice, can be located between 1749 and 1750. This is the cycle of seven canvases for the organ's parapet with the stories of Tobias and Tobiolo. Although they were for a long time attributed to Giovanni Antonio and to Francesco alternatively, they are now unanimously considered the to be the work of the former. To a certain extent his fantastical and vaporous impressionism represents a stylistic break with regard to his early style, which was closer to Maulbertsch and Sebastiano Ricci and is now in some ways closer to Pellegrini. The Roman Histories in the Bogstad Villa in Oslo are related to this cycle, as are the Episodes from the Life of Joseph in the Lutomirsky Collection in Milan and the Episodes from La Gerusalemme Liberata (divided between the National Gallery in Washington, the Statens Museum för Kunst in Copenhagen and a number of British private collections), based on prints made by Piazzetta for the Albrizzi edition from 1745 of Torquato Tasso's poem. In these cycles of paintings critics have detected differences of style that can be attributed to the participation of Guardi's brothers Francesco and Niccolò. Giovanni Antonio Guardi died in Venice in 1760.

Roberto Contini