From the hotel we walk East, along the busy road that runs from the station to the Rialto and San Marco. We continue our way and pass a very wide street, for Venetian standards, that was laid in the 19th century: the Strada Nova. We take a right at a McDonald’s onto Calle di Ca’ d’Oro.
Ca’ d’Oro is unique in the gothic architecture of La Serenissima. A weird, very expensive and beautifully dressed duckling on the Canal Grande. The only typical Venetian thing about the Ca’ d’Oro is the division of the rooms.
Much is known about its construction, since the documents are still available. It was built between 1423 and 1437 in commission of Marino Contarini. Marino wanted to impress. The gondolas should at least stop for a bit at his palace. Contarini was part of one of the richest noble families bought the palazzo from the Zeno family in 1412. His first wife died five years later. Contarini had the old palace from Zeno demolished to build a new palazzo on this land, to the memory of his wife, Soramador Zeno. Many decorative elements of the old palace were incorporated in the Ca’ d’Oro.
Contarini himself gave the orders for the different parts of the construction. He also took care of the materials. We also know the two stonemason workshops involved: a stonemason from Milan, Matteo Raverti and the Venetian Giovanni Bon. The six arcs of the piano nobile are Raverti’s. The Ca’ d’Oro was painted in a very showy way. The French painter Zuan di Franza gilded the balls at the roof decoration, the finials in the tracery, the pointed windows, the lion heads, the foliage at the corner capitals and the round frames around the golden knobs. The coats of arms on the capitals and the consoles in the form of lions, supporting the eaves were painted with the most precious lapis lazuli. This is absurd if you know how corrosive the salty air and wind are in this city. There is a reason the house still bears the name oro, or golden. The white Istrian stone was decorated with white lead and oil, creating a beautiful effect of veined marble. The red marble from Verona was also oiled and varnished to make the colour come out more.
The Ca’d’Oro still leaves a big impression because of the complexity of the tracing and the other architectural decorations. It is apparent how much this palazzo owes to Ducale, especially when seeing the six arches of the piano nobile.
The work of the Milanese gallery of Raverti is very recognisable. This gallery also worked on the Milan cathedral. The refined details of the facade dominate the structure. An ‘overall plan’ or modular system as is the case in San Giovanni Crisostomo is hard to find. The three higher ‘pinnacles’ or ‘crenulation’ in the middle for instance do not correspond to the symmetrical facade at all.
Baron Franchetti restored the Ca’ d’Oro in the beginning of the 20th century. The staircase was rebuilt, the original well was bought in Paris and the arch frieze under the eaves was also restored. Ruskin, who wrote the famous book ‘The Stones of Venice’ in 1853 (which can be read online here) was extremely agitated about the architectural interventions of the previous tenant. The famous ballerina, Mademoiselle Taglioni made barbaric changes to this old palace. Ruskin was angry. During my last visit to Venice, I witnessed the heartbreaking destruction of the magnificent red marble slabs that formed the balcony bases and were intricately carved into noble spiral moldings of strange sections, measuring half a foot deep. Additionally, the glorious interior staircase, which was the most captivating Gothic monument of its kind in Venice, had been disassembled and sold as waste marble two years earlier (paraphrasing). See the letter from Ruskin: Whittick, A., ed., Ruskin’s Venice, George Godwin, London, 1976 p. 57. See notebook Ruskin about the Ca’d’ Oro
The collection of Venetian sculptures located on the first floor of the museum is especially remarkable. One of the most beautiful pieces is the marble double-portrait by Tullio Lombardo (also self-portrait). Wikipedia: sculptures in the Galleria Franchetti
The raised hand of the Rio de la Plata and the cloth covering the head of the Nile were reportedly intended as a protest against the facade of Borromini’s Sant’Agnese in Agone. This, however, is a persistent myth that should be dispelled. When Bernini completed his design Borromini’s facade had not yet been built.
In addition to all the paintings we encounter during the excursion, the statues will provide a pleasant change. We also find a polyptych of Antonio Vivarini concerning the Crucifixion. Mantegna’s sombre painting of Saint Sebastian is regarded as the showpiece of the museum. Wikipedia: Paintings in the Galleria Franchetti
“The grandiose, tortured figure of the saint is depicted before a neutral, shallow background in brown colour. The artist’s intentions for the work are explained by a banderol spiralling around an extinguished candle, in the lower right corner. Here, in Latin, it is written: Nihil nisi divinum stabile est. Caetera fumus (“Nothing is stable except the divine. The rest is smoke”). The inscription may have been necessary because the theme of life’s fleetingness was not usually associated with pictures of Sebastian. The “M” letter formed by the crossing arrows over the saint’s legs could stand for Morte (“Death”) or Mantegna.” Source: Wikipedia
The second floor displays works by famous Flemish and Dutch painters, such as Jan van Eyck, Jan van Scorel, Paul Brill, Gabriel Metsu and Jan Steen, alongside works of important Italian painters (Tintoretto, Titian and Bordone).
We continue our way towards San Marco. We discussed the famous Piazza San Marco with its adjacent buildings in class. This section will also discuss the architecture of San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale.