19 July, 2006

55. Ca' d'Oro

This beautiful jewel of a Palazzo framed between coupled spiral columns at the left and right front corners, is one of the most famous of all the palazzi on the Grand Canal, and one of the most unusual. It almost looks like two narrow palaces joined together, one half of the façade is so different from the other.

The Venetian-Byzantine canal entrance is a five-arched atrium with a central arch bigger than the pairs either side, while the two florid gothic upper floors have quatrefoil arched open galleries clearly inspired by the Doge's Palace in San Marco. This is hardly surprising, as this palace was built in the early 1400s at the same time as the main gothic parts of that other massive work, and some of the same master craftsmen are supposed to have worked on both buildings.

The façade is still unusually decorative with subtle use of red and pink and grey marble and finely carved details, but what we see now is very restrained compared with the way it was originally finished. The palace is known as Ca' d'Oro or the "Golden House" because at one time it was decorated in multicoloured red and blue with elaborate and extensive gilding. The canal front of this palace would once have dazzled passers by, glittering with reflections of the sun from its gilded features. Fortunately, none of this original 'flash' has survived. It is hard to imagine how that sort of exhibitionistic flamboyance could have been anything other than a gaudy distraction from the building's real merits.

In the middle of the 19th century, this palace was bought as a gift for the prima ballerina Maria Taglioni by an admiring Russian prince. The woman must have had something pretty special going for her, because she already owned two other Venetian palaces, presumably also gifts from wealthy admirers. She was better at acquiring them than preserving them, though, as she immediately carried out a truly disastrous renovation of Ca' d'Oro, radically altering the layout, destroying a glorious original internal marble staircase, and carting beautiful slabs of red flooring marble away as scrap.

Some of this damage was undone by Baron Giorgio Franchetti when he bought the place in 1894, and restored it as best he could, even tracking down much of the material that had been removed fifty years earlier, including the original 15th century courtyard well head carved by Bartolomeo Bon.

Ca' d'Oro is now a museum with a very fine art collection.


Blogger The Old Foodie said...

Hello Greybeard, fancy meeting you here! Reading this every day is almost as good as being in Venice (who am I kidding?). Seriously, it is beautiful.

July 19, 2006 9:49 PM  
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