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Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Venice, Italy - Ca D'Oro

Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari in VeneziaImage via Wikipedia

By Harry Preston

Goldleaf, ultramarine and vermillion were the most expensive pigments at the time, and the man who commissioned the palace, Procuratore Marino Contarini, was showing off his wealth. The Contarinis were one of Venice's most successful patrician families. Between 1043 and 1676 they provided eight doges for the Republic. Marino didn't manage to get himself elected so he set out to impress the city with his vast wealth. In 1421 the site had been prepared by demolishing the Palazzo Zeno, which was part of the dowry brought by Marino's wife. Between 1425 and 1434 Ca d'Oro was constructed in its place. The style is pure Gothic Venetian, described by some as "floral".

Other buildings in this style are Palazzo Barbaro and the Palazzo Giustinian, both nearby. In this case the architect was Bartolomeo Bon from Campione d'ltalla. Bon, working in partnership with his father, completed a number of important works in Venice including the Porta della Carta in Basilica di San Marco, with its monumental sculpture of the judgement of Solomon, the great marble door of Santa Maria dei Frari and the fine Foscari Arch of thePalazzo Ducale.

The wonderful airiness of the palace arises from its oriental pinnacles and the recessed colonnaded loggia which leads from the canal into a much more substantial entrance hall in front of a small inner courtyard into which Bon inserted an impressive well head (vera di pozzo). one of his signature features. The palazzo has been described, rightly, as a cross between a medieval church and a Moorish temple and yet for all its delicacy it is, and always was intended to be, asymmetrical. The palazzo changed hands many times over the following centuries and was owned by both the Marcello and Loredan families, but it remained in the hands of the aristocracy until the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797.

In the 19th century it was extensively altered by a series of new owners, including Prince Troubetzkoy who bought it for the dancer Maria Taglioni. Under her direction the Gothic stairway and the balconies overlooking the inner courtyard were removed and the well head sold off. John Ruskin, in The Stones of Venice, declared her interventions to be an act for which he could not forgive her.

In 1894 Baron Franchetti acquired the building. He rebuilt the stairway and balconies and restored Bartolomeo Bon's well head. He also compiled a rich art collection which he bequeathed to the state, along with this palazzo, after his death in 1922. Today, the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti is open to the public. It contains some rather routine Tintorettos and Titians but Mantegna's St Sebastian on the first floor is unmissable. Look out for Bartolo's Coronation of the Virgin, Lombardo's Young Couple and Antonio da Firenze's Story of Lucrezia.

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