Ca' Rezzonico - A journey into 18th-Century Venice

Ca' Rezzonico - Museum of the 18th century Venice

Suggestions for an artistic itinerary through collections and masterpieces

The Palace
The monumental Palazzo Rezzonico, designed by B. Longhena and G. Massari, is the location of the museum which offers an insight into a whole age. Alongside precious furniture and decorations, it hosts major paintings by Venetian artists of the 18th century, such as Giandomenico and GiambattistaTiepolo, Rosalba Carriera, Canaletto and the Longhi and Guardi families. Important donations have recently enriched the museum’s collections with over 300 works by such artists as Cima da Conegliano, Alvise Vivarini, Bonifacio de’ Pitati, Tintoretto, Sebastiano and Marco Ricci, and more works by the Tiepolo and Longhi families, Rosalba Carriera and Francesco Guardi. The visit extends itself over four floors, and the visitor can also rest or take a break in the large reception area, the cafè or the charming garden.

The charming garden of the palace.

The itinerary begins...
The visit to the museum collections begins at Giorgio Massari’s large ceremonial staircase on the side of the palace opposite to the Grand Canal. On the first floor, eleven rooms exhibit paintings, sculptures, frescoed ceilings, and collections of 18th century furniture. Among the most beautiful and fascinating rooms there is the Ballroom, the Room of the Nuptial Allegory and the Tiepolo’s Room.
The grand ballroom of Palazzo Rezzonico is of a significant originality with respect to other Venetian buildings. Massari created it by eliminating the floor of the upper piano nobile and closing an order of windows, thus doubling the height of the room; it gives the palace a truly “regal” effect, and expresses the spirit of the mid-18th century. The room itself gives the illusion of being the centre of a much larger space that can be glimpsed beyond the trompe l’oeil architecture painted on the walls; these illusionistic effects were created by Pietro Visconti. All of these decorations refer to allegorical and celebratory themes linked with Apollonian myths: a kind of figurative poem in honour of the Rezzonico family, whose coat-of-arms appears in the gilded drapes at the centre of the main wall.

The ceiling fresco is by Giovanni Battista Crosato and represents the chariot of Phoebus with Europe, Asia, America and Africa on the four sides.

Apollo's chariot, Giovanni Battista Crosato.

Along the walls there are some of the works that the sculptor Andrea Brustolon produced for the Venier family in the early years of the 18th century.

The two grandiose chandeliers in gilded wood and metal with floral motifs were part of the original furnishings of the palace.

Nuptial Allegory Room
On the ceiling there is the great fresco that gives the room its name. It was painted in the winter of 1757 by Giambattista Tiepolo, together with his son Giandomenico and the trompe l’oeil painter Gerolamo Mengozzi Colonna, on the occasion of the wedding between Ludovico Rezzonico and Faustina Savorgnan. Against a brilliant sky that opens up beyond the false balustrade, four impetuous white horses are pulling Apollo’s chariot, which bears the two spouses preceded by the blindfolded Cupid and surrounded by allegorical figures. These are Fame, the three Graces and Wisdom. A bearded old man crowned with laurel (Merit), with a Lion at his feet, symbol of the city, is holding a sceptre and a banner with the coats-of-arms of the two families. The solar quality of the light, the stupendous symphony of colours and the dynamic vigour of the figures make this fresco (one of the last works painted by Tiepolo in Venice) one of his greatest masterpieces. 

The furniture in the room comprises carved and gilded pieces that date from the early 18th century. Among the masterpieces exhibited in this room, there is a small painting by Pietro Longhi which shows Pope Clement XIII (Carlo Rezzonico) granting an audience to his nephews Carlo and Lodovico and his niece Faustina and a portrait of the same pope by Anton Raphael Mengs; it was produced in the period July-December 1758, during the months immediately after the pope’s election (on July 16).

Tiepolo Room
Here one can admire the third of Giambattista Tiepolo’s four ceilings in Ca’ Rezzonico: this is a modelled canvas representing Nobility and Virtue Defeating Perfidy. Unlike the frescoes in the other rooms of the lower piano nobile, this work was not painted for the palace, but was created between 1744 and 1745 for Pietro Barbarigo; it was then inherited by the Donà delle Rose family and in 1934 was purchased by the Venice Town Council to be exhibited in this room. The splendid figures of Nobility and Virtue in rich robes stand out against the bright sky; they are surrounded by the usual cohort of exquisite winged putti, together with two elegant pages as train-bearers. Perfidy, dressed in grey tones, is tumbling downards followed by a bat that a putto has caught on a string. The page is depicted with a delicate attention to detail and appears to have the artist’s child, Giuseppe Maria, as a model.

Many paintings adorn the walls of the Tiepolo Room, while the furniture is of various provenance and high quality.

The itinerary continues on the second floor...
The second floor opens with a long Central Hall typical of Venetian palaces in which there are two early works by Canaletto; a must see is the room dedicated to frescos from Villa Zianigo by Tiepolo, or the Parlatorio Room or the Longhi Room. 
Picture-Gallery Portego
The second floor Portego acts as the traditional Venetian “quadreria”, containing the most important paintings of the museum with masterpieces by Luca Carlevarijs, Francesco Guardi, Giambattista Piazzetta, Gian Antonio Pellegrini, Marco Ricci, Francesco Zuccarelli, Giuseppe Zais and Canaletto with the View of the Rio dei Mendicanti and The Grand Canal from Ca’ Balbi Looking towards Rialto, recently acquired by the Venice Town Council (1983), the only view-paintings by the artist in the city’s public collections. These are the finest works of his youthful period, around the 1720s, when he decided to abandon the practice of theatrical scenography, which he had been engaged on till then in his father’s employment, in order to devote himself to view-painting.

View of the Rio dei Mendicanti, Canaletto.

The Grand Canal from Ca’ Balbi Looking towards Rialto, Canaletto

View of a river port, Luca Carlevarijs

Dario's death, Giambattista Piazzetta.

Giandomenico Tiepolo’s frescoes from the Villa at Zianigo
From this point on, starting with the scenes of Rinaldo Abandoning the Garden of Armida and the Falcon, one enters the area of the museum devoted to the recomposition of the cycle of frescoes by Giandomenico Tiepolo, painted from 1759 to 1797 for his villa which still exists at Zianigo, a small village near Mirano, in the countryside to the west of Venice. Almost all of them were removed in 1906 in order to be sold in France; but their exportation was blocked by the Ministry of Education and the works were purchased by the Venice Town Council and by the Italian State. They were transferred in 1936 to Ca’ Rezzonico, using a layout that attempted to reconstruct – although with a few differences and superimpositions – the original arrangement. The frescoes – restored in 1999 by Ottorino Nonfarmale thanks to the generous contribution of the members of the Venice International Foundation – are some of the most fascinating and striking works in Ca’ Rezzonico – indeed, of the second half of the century.

The Villa walk, Giandomenico Tiepolo.

Minuet at the Villa, Giandomenico Tiepolo.

Among the masterpieces that can be admired in these rooms there is the New World, signed and dated 1791. The scene is striking: it represents, seen from the rear, a small crowd waiting to peer into a kind of “cosmorama” or “diorama” to see pictures and scenes of a distant world. To modern eyes the painting has an unsettling power: the air of expectation, the lack of faces, the metaphysical simplicity of the landscape and the huckster’s booth all make this painting an emblematic and moving testimony to a state of foreboding, mingled with curiosity and amazement aroused by a new world still unknown.

Mondo Novo, Giandomenico Tiepolo

Some have recognised, in the two figures in profile on the right, Giambattista Tiepolo, with folded arms and, further back, Giandomenico with the eyeglass.

Mondo Novo, detail.

A must see is the next room, which contains frescoes with scenes from the life of Punchinello or Punch (“Pulcinella” in Italian): Punchinello and the Tumblers, Punchinello in Love, Punchinellos Carousing (1797); on the ceiling is the famous oval with Punchinellos on a Swing (1793).

In the end the Punchinellos dominate Giandomenico Tiepolo’s human comedy at Zianigo: they seem to turn up gradually in all the scenes, slowly taking over every role, substituting every individual.

The timeless story of Punchinello reached its epilogue and its apex simultaneously. A via crucis that is blasphemous but also tragic and painfull; a heroic poem and an obscene quip; a heartfelt prayer or a novel, a portrait, a curse.

Punchinello's swing, Giandomenico Tiepolo

Room of the “Parlour”
Here are exhibited two of the most famous paintings by Francesco Guardi, The Nuns' Parlour at San Zaccaria and the Ridotto of Palazzo Dandolo at San Moisè, painted in the second half of the 1740s. They are two "interior views" which anticipate the views of the city that Francesco would begin to produce around the end of the following decade: note the liveliness of the miniature figures, which have the same freshness of touch and the same lightness of colour as those in his innumerable views of Venice. The Parlour shows the visitors’ room at the convent of San Zaccaria, where friends and relatives could chat with the nuns: on these festive occasions puppet-shows were put on for the younger visitors.

The Ridotto shows the large room of the gambling-house at Palazzo Dandolo at San Moisè, decorated in "cuori d'oro", as it was before 1768.

Longhi Room
The room provides an interesting chance to compare two different spirits of the Venetian Settecento: the lively, sensuous rococo of Giambattista Tiepolo’s allegorical-mythological works, represented in the canvas on the ceiling with Zephyr and Flora, and the keenly ironic and critical spirit of the Venetian Enlightenment in Pietro Longhi’s “genre” pictures, on the walls. 

On the ceiling, the canvas by Tiepolo comes from Ca’ Pesaro and belongs to an early phase of the artist’s career, in the 1730s. The combined presence of Zephyr – one of the four winds – and the goddess of flowers alludes to spring and thus to fecundity. The colours are brilliant and transparent; the virtuoso skill of the brushwork brings out the sensuous flesh-tones and emphasises pleasing contrasts in the colour effects.

The Triumph of
Zephyrus and Flora, detail.

The Triumph of
Zephyrus and Flora, detail.

The series of paintings by Pietro Longhi on the walls presents amorous encounters and scenes from everyday life: he shows us patricians and peasants, a visit to the painter’s study, a barber at work, scenes of domestic conversation, “exotic and monstrous” curiosities, family-groups and concerts; a whole repertoire of ordinary situations, events and entertainments.

In his paintings, Longhi’s investigative eye seeks out the modes and manners of a highly cultivated civilisation but is far from being indulgent with the world he represents: he almost ruthlessly dissects the empty customs and pompous foibles of his characters and their world. He excels above all in domestic interiors, as lucid and rational in their own way as Canaletto’s exterior views.

The rhino, Pietro Longhi

Conversation between bautas, Pietro Longhi

The furlana, Pietro Longhi

An unexpected third floor
The third floor contains not only the noteworthy collection of paintings bequeathed by Egidio Martini but also the three rooms of the Ai Do San Marchi Pharmacy. Until 1908 the Pharmacy was in Campo San Stin in Venice and the furnishings were bought by a Parisian antiquarian, who then chose to donate them to the Musei Civici di Venezia. In 1936 the furniture and the objects were transferred to the third floor of Ca’ Rezzonico.

The pharmacy consists of three intercommunicating rooms. The first one is the shop itself and has 183 vases in decorated majolica,coming from the Venetian Cozzi factory. The second room contains the laboratory, with a fire-place and stove, in addition to alembics in fine glass, from the Murano furnaces.

The Ai do San Marchi Pharmacy.

Beyond is the back-room of the pharmacy. Its walls are completely covered by a boiserie in painted fir-wood, enriched with carved capitols and other decorative features. On the shelves are vases in majolica and glass in addition to two large mortars, used for grinding the raw materials.

The Ai do San Marchi Pharmacy, detail.

The Ai do San Marchi Pharmacy, detail.

Credits: Story


Mariacristina Gribaudi

Luigi Brugnaro

Bruno Bernardi, Barbara Nino, Roberto Zuccato

Gabriella Belli

Executive Secretary
Mattia Agnetti

Ca' Rezzonico
Alberto Craievich

Google Cultural Institute Exhibition curated by
Alessandro Paolinelli, Silvia Catani

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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