Ca Rezzonico, Venice, Italy - visitor information
The Ca’Rezzonico, dedicated to exploring and explaining 18th century Venice, is perhaps one of the lesser-known museums in the city. It’s also one of the most important and the most intriguing, offering a glimpse behind the scenes of life in Venice’s great days. The chequered history of the Ca’Rezzonico — passing from hand to hand as families grew wealthy then fell from power — is a micro-history of Venice itself.
The name means ‘house of the Rezzonico family’ but this isn’t even half the story. In 1649, Filippo Bon, head of one of Venice’s most important families, commissioned a palace to be built at the junction of the Grand Canal and the Rio di San Barnaba. It was a prime site, occupied by two houses owned by the Bons, and the new building was to be a concrete expression of the family’s wealth and status. The architect was Baldassare Longhena, the master of the Venetian Baroque style, which was now replacing the Venetian Gothic style of earlier palazzos such as the Ca’ d’Oro.
We see a symmetrical marble façade of pilastered, rounded arches. The rusticated ground floor face has a central recessed, three-bay portico with pediment, flanked by bay windows. Up to the piano nobile floor and we see seven bays of arched windows, divided by pilasters. The next piano nobile floor is identical, and then there is a shallow mezzanine floor of oval windows. On these floors, balconies project slightly, accentuating the baroque nature of the façade.
This was a monumental exercise; medieval cathedrals have been built in less time. Longhena died in 1682, his masterpiece still unfinished, and the cost contributed to Filippo Bon’s financial ruin. The new owners were the Rezzonico family, part of the new rich of Venice who, grown fat from the war with Turkey in the mid-1600s, were supplanting the old (and now bankrupt) Venetian aristocracy. But if this was new money, it was well spent. In 1756, paterfamilias Giambattista Rezzonico commissioned Giorgio Massari to finish the palazzo: a century after they had started on their project, the ruined Bons were still living in a half-finished palace.
By 1758 Massari had finished the building, carefully following Longhena’s plan while adding notes that reflected the evolution of Venetian Baroque in the intervening decades. Now the Rezzonicos commissioned frescoes to decorate the palace: Guarana, Diziani and Tiepolo were the artists chosen. Still in place today, these frescoes in the piano nobile state rooms are among the best preserved in Venice.
Massari created a superb ballroom, its walls decorated in trompe l’oeuil by Pietro Visconti. There are marble balustrades with statuary by Giusto Le Court. The ceiling, by Giovan Battista Crosato, shows Apollo riding his chariot across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas. Such images reflect the confidence of the Rezzonicos at the time … but such hubris can presage a fall.
These floors house the Chapel and the extraordinary Nuptial Room (decorated for the 1758 wedding of Ludovico Rezzonico to Faustina Savorgnan, a match which joined two of Venice’s most powerful families). Here we see the pair drawn across the skies in Apollo’s chariot. The same year, Giambattista’s son Carlo was elected Pope Clement XIII: the Rezzonico’s were in their pomp.
Now the fall. By the early 19th century the Rezzonicos were bankrupt, and the palazzo passed through various hands, becoming home to poet Robert Browning and his son, painter Robert Barrett Browning in the 1880s. American artist John Singer Sargent also had a studio here. The final private owner was the eccentric Count Lionello von Hierschel de Minerbi, who stocked the palazzo with further objets d’art until, in 1935, funds dried up. The Ca’Rezzonico had ruined another ambitious owner.
Since 1935, the Ca’Rezzonico has been owned by the City Council of Venice, which uses it to display part of its vast collection of 18th century art, much of it overspill from the Museo Correr. The Ca’Rezzonico has become home to pieces (often entire rooms) salvaged from other distressed 18th century Venetian palazzos. Important pieces include much by Tiepolo, including a whole ceiling (‘the Allegory of Merit’) saved from the Palazzo Barbarigo, and now in the original Throne Room. Other items here, in memory of the Barbarigo family, are an ornate gilt picture frame allegorising the achievements of the Barbarigi. There is a sumptuous gilt chair by Antonio Corradini in the rococo style.
There is a Chinois-style salon saved from the Calbo-Crotta palazzo, and several other rooms rescued from rotting Venetian palazzos and now displayed in the perfect setting … in an 18th century Venetian palazzo. Complementing these rooms are collections of Murano glass of the 1700s, furniture of the period and, of course, numerous works by that great Venetian master of the period, Giambattista Tiepolo.
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