South side Rooms on the Second Floor, Ca’ Rezzonico

Ca’ Rezzonico is a palazzo on the Grand Canal in the Dorsoduro sestiere of Venice, Italy. It is a particularly notable example of the 18th century Venetian baroque and rococo architecture and interior decoration, and displays paintings by the leading Venetian painters of the period, including Francesco Guardi and Giambattista Tiepolo. It is a public museum dedicated to 18th-century Venice (Museo del Settecento Veneziano) and one of the 11 venues managed by the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia.

The second floor opens with a long central hall typical of Venetian palaces in which there are two early works by Canaletto; the rooms dedicated to the work of Pietro Longhi and the Giandomenico Tieopolo frescoes originally on the walls of Villa Zianigo are not to be missed.

Longhi Hall
The paintings in this room offer the opportunity to compare two different trends in the Venetian painting school of the Eighteenth century: vivid, sensual, rococo, visible in the allegorical and mythological works of Giambattista Tiepolo, with a ceiling, “zephyr and Flore” ironic and the critical spirit of the Venetian Lights, visible in the paintings of Pietro Longhi hanging on the walls. The canvas of Tiepolo, painted in the 1730s for Ca’ Pesaro, is part of the beginnings of his work. The joint presence of Zephyr, one of the four winds, and Flore is a reference to spring, so to fertility. The colors are bright and transparent. The artist has virtually drawn sensual flesh tones and accentuated color contrasts.

The painting on the ceiling with Zephyr and Flora is the last painting by Giambattista Tiepolo present in the palace, although it was the first to be painted. It augurs fecundity for the newlyweds.The colours are transparent and bright; virtuoso pieces like Flora’s iridescent drape or the crystalline texture of Zephyr’s wings alternate with sensuous flesh tones. In contrast to Tiepolo’s imaginative art, along the walls you can view the whole of Pietro Longhi’s original production, which takes us into the daily life of 18th-century Venice, both the festive life of the carnival and the reserved life of the nobility who, for the first time here, open the doors of their palaces to indiscrete scrutiny, at least in a virtual sense.

Pietro Longhi’s series of paintings on the walls depict scenes from everyday life; a visit to a painting studio, a hairdresser at work, scenes of family and family life, concerts, events and entertainment. Longhi appears in them as an insightful observer of forms and ways of life, submitting in detail the empty habits and pompous weaknesses of his heroes and their world. He distinguishes himself by presenting house interiors as, to a certain extent, by Canaletto with his vedute.

Pietro Longhi’s artistic career was long and complex and covered numerous artistic genres. After a not very brilliant career as an historical painter he converted to genre painting, more precisely to the painting of pastoral scenes. First he painted isolated figures of shepherds and peasant women, then he transferred them into rustic country interiors, where they are seen in attitudes of tender, joyful complicity, as in the painting called Polenta or the one called Furlana, a folk dance. After these works dedicated to a merry Italian Arcadia, towards the mid-18th century Longhi’s investigative eye turned to the town, and he changed subject and style. It was in this field that he made his name. His new subjects were the members of Venetian patrician society, no longer shown in formal portraits like those on the lower floor, but portrayed as they went about their daily business: the Barber, the Morning Chocolate, or the Visit of the bauta (bauta is a masked carnival character) or The Moor’s Letter. It was the first time that the Venetian aristocracy had been shown, so to speak, in their dressing gowns, busy at their various pastimes.

In describing this private world Pietro Longhi uses an extremely delicate technique based on soft colours and continuous tiny brushstrokes which enhance the effect of the elaborate fabrics. The painter also follows the aristocratic couple outside their homes, where they are going not to take part in public ceremonies but to have fun at the Carnival. The places they stop at are the huckster’s or hawkers’ stands. Longhi portrays the noble Venetians with their faces masked so as to remain anonymous, just as Venetian Republican laws demanded. The attractions of the Carnival, which lasted all of three months, included exotic animals like lions, elephants and, in this case, a Rhinoceros. These were real curiosities for those times, and it was the patricians themselves who asked Longhi to immortalise them in paint. The yellow lacquer furniture decorated with floral motifs and red curls was originally in a drawing-room in Palazzo Calbo Crotta. The rare tub sofa is particularly curious.

Longhi Room – Ceilling by Giambattista Tiepolo
La filatrice 1740
Le lavandaie 1740
La Polenta 1740
La venditrice di frittole 1755
L’allegra coppia 1740
Il concertino in famiglia 1752
Il Ciarlatano 1757
La cioccolata del mattino 1775
La scuola di lavoro 1752
La venditrice di essenze 1756
La furlane 1750
Famiglia Patrizia 1755
La famiglia Rezzonico 1758
Portrait of William Graham (2e duc de Montrose) 1755
Colloquio fra baute 1760
La visita al convento 1760
La visita in bauta 1760
Il gigante Magrath 1760
Gli alchimisti 1757
Ritratto di Adriana Giustinian Barbarigo 1776-1779
La pettinatrice 1760
L’indovina 1752
La passaggiata a cavallo 1755-1760
La prova dell’abito 1760
La toeletta 1760
Il parrucchiere 1760
Visita all’ammalato 1774
Visita del frate 1775
L’ambasciata del moro 1751
Il rinoceronte 1751
L’atelier del pittore 1740

Green lacquer room
The room known as the Green Lacquer Room is one of the most enchanting rooms in the palace. It takes its name from the emerald green lacquered furniture from Palazzo Calbo Crotta at Canneregio, with its decorative elements in gilded pastiglia (that is, a kind of stucco made with plaster and marble dust). Over the centuries, the fanciful accounts of travellers had caused a decidedly unreal view of China and more generally of the whole orient to be spread over Europe; it was seen as an imaginary land populated by inhabitants with improbable customs. In the figurative arts, interest in the marvellous Cathay had already materialised in the 17th century at the court of Louis XIV, but it was in the following century that it became a real fad infecting all aspects of the figurative arts. In fact there are many elements of far eastern art which coincide with rococo art: asymmetry, lightness, absence of shading and perspective.

The decoration of this piece (Sala delle Lacche Verdi) is a set of furniture painted green and gold, called Salotto Calbo-Crotta with chinoiserie motifs, very popular in Venetian eighteenth century. The set comes from Palazzo Calbo Crotta in Cannaregio. On the ceiling of the hall is the fresco of Giovanni Antonio Guardi’s triumph of Diana, from the Barbarigo-Dabalà palace to Angelo Raffaele. The allegorico-mythological work, created in the 1850s, is a perfect example of the talent of the artist in the style of rock, bright and full of fantasy. The walls of the room are decorated with vedute and landscapes.

Eastern and European motifs thus merged to form an independent new style which, it should be specified, was wholly western: this style was known as chinoiserie. Decorative motifs from oriental prototypes were applied to western forms and types, as in the furniture here. Its exquisite, sinuous Louis XV forms are however decorated with narrative scenes full of exotic motifs. Pagodas, umbrellas, willows, cherry-trees and gold oriental figurines flutter along the green lacquer background, framed within rococo ornamental motifs. The small Chinese polychrome figures in terracotta with moving heads are in fact original oriental pieces.

On the ceiling is the fine Triumph of Diana by Antonio Guardi, coming from Palazzo Barbarigo Dabalà and datable to the 1760s. Diana, seated on a cloud and surrounded by cherubs, is holding a spear in her right hand, while two cupids are playing with a dog at her feet. Unlike his younger brother Francesco, Antonio Guardi never ventured into view painting, but remained a prolific figure painter throughout his not very successful career. In his latest works, which include the frescoes in this and the next room, he showed himself to be one of the most lyrical exponents of Venetian rococo, creating compositions with a vibrant interplay of loose, frayed brushstrokes, and transforming the figures into diaphanous silhouettes which dissolve into the light.

Landscape with monks and travelers and Landscape with mill and laundress by Marco Ricci, Italian vedute engraver and painter. Main initiator Venetian landscape in the eighteenth century.
Caprice with an arch and Caprice with the fountain of Neptune by Luca Carlevarijs.
Landscape with marine and Landscape with a caravan by Johann Anton Eismann, an Austrian painter born in Salzburg and active in Verona and Venice. He mainly painted scenes of port and battle genre. He died in Venice in 1698.
Landscape with a waterfall and Landscape with a marine by Jacob de Heusch, Dutch painter of the golden century. He is known for his paintings of Italian landscapes.
From Giuseppe Zais, already met in other rooms: Landscape, Landscape with shepherds, Landscape with milking

Trionfo di diana – Ceiling
Paesaggio con monaci e viandanti by Marco Ricci
Paesaggio con mulino e lavandaie by Marco Ricci
Capriccio con arco by Luca Carlevarijs
Capriccio con la fontana di Nettuno by Luca Carlevarijs
Paesaggio con marina by Johann Anton Eisman
Paesaggio con Carovana by Johann Anton Eisman
Paesaggio con cascata by Jacob de Heusch
Paesaggio con marina by Jacob de Heusch
Paesaggio con pastore by Giuseppe Zais
Paesaggio by Giuseppe Zais
Paesaggio con la mungitura by Giuseppe Zais
Paesaggio con riposo al torrente by Giuseppe Zais

Antonio Guardi Room
Commissioned to Antonio Guardi by Maria Barbarigo Savorgnan, the frescoes of this room were covered with plaster during the nineteenth century and found during a restoration of the Palace Barbarigo Dabalà in 1936. Detached and marouflaged they were transferred to Ca’ Rezzonico. They are three in number: Minerva; Venus and Love in front of Vulcan’s forge; and Apollo. The frescoes were framed with gypserie. These restored frescoes are the only examples of this type of work by Gianantonio Guardi. The Veiled Lady is the work of the Venetian sculptor Antonio Corradini and represents the allegory of Purity. The frescoes in this room, like the one in the previous room, were painted over during the 19th century and uncovered during a restoration of Palazzo Barbarigo Dabalà in 1936. Stripped from their original location, they were transferred to Ca’Rezzonico in that same year.

On the entrance wall we find Venus and Cupid depicted in front of Vulcan’s forge,while Apollo occupies the wall in front of the fireplace. He is crowned with laurels and a cherub is handing him his quiver. Minerva, on the next wall, is seated among the clouds with a helmet and a spear. Although they are in a precarious state of conservation, these works, the only frescoes by Antonio Guardi known today, still clearly show the painter’s skill in decoration. There is a festive, light effect obtained by the use of soft colours which almost resemble pastels, and by the typical use of open strokes in the outlines, leaving the forms unenclosed.

The splendid marble bust of a Veiled Woman is the work of the Venetian sculptor Antonio Corradini and probably represents the allegory of Purity. He was one of the most renowned sculptors of the eighteenth century and it is no coincidence that, in addition to contributing projects for the decoration of the last Bucintoro, he worked for many European and Italian courts. He ended his life in Naples where he had been called to decorate the famous Cappella Sansevero on commission from the whimsically eclectic Prince alchemist Raimondo di Sangro. The motif of the face covered with a dampened veil is recurrent in this sculptor, who was famous among his contemporaries for his extraordinary virtuoso technique.

Instead of concealing the figure, the flimsy veil accentuates the woman’s sensuality and adds a note of intriguing mystery. The nine armchairs with their curved arms, backs and legs, and the two small chests of drawers with their elegant rounded shape are in green lacquer and decorated with polychrome flowers.

Venere e Amore di fronte alla fucina di Vulcano
The Veiled Lady by Antonio Corradini 1772

In this room, an 18th-century bedchamber has been reconstructed, with its dressing rooms, wardrobe room and boudoir. The alcove comes from Palazzo Carminati at San Stae, and dates from the second half of the 18th century. The bed is enclosed in carved wooden framework painted ivory white. The wooden headboard is painted in tempera with in the centre a Holy family with Saint Anne and young St. John.

Above the bed is a pastel Madonna by Rosalba Carriera, datable to the second half of the 1720s.

Outside the alcove the furnishings consist of a walnut, inlaid chest with lid (bureau trumeau), probably of Lombard origin, and a green lacquered cradle with polychrome flowers. The walls are covered in 18th-century wallpaper decorated with small rural landscapes and ruins, over which figures have been moulded then painted.

On the right of the bed, a display case contains a toiletry set formerly belonging to the Pisani Moretta family. The set was made in 1752 for Cattaruzza Grimani on the occasion of her marriage to Pietro Vettor Pisani. The twinned crests of the two families appear on the lid of the coffer. Consisting of 58 pieces in gilded silver and green onyx, it is the work of a silversmith from Augsburg. All a lady could need is included: a large table mirror and a shell-shaped repousseé washbowl, a jewellery case, a powder bellows, candle holders and bottles for fragrances and perfumes, and even writing tools and cutlery. Go through the door to the left of the alcove into the boudoir which was transferred here from palazzo Calbo Crotta. The walls still have the original 18th-century stucco work, while the paintings are by Costantini Cedini.

Ca ‘Rezzonico
Ca ‘Rezzonico is one of the most famous palaces of Venice, located in the district of Dorsoduro, overlooking the Grand Canal from Palazzo Contarini Michiel and Palazzo Nani Bernardo, not far from Ca’ Foscari.

The palace which houses the Museum of 18th-century Venice was built at the behest of the Bon family, one of the old noble families of the town. Halfway through the 17th century Filippo Bon commissioned the building from the most famous architect of his time, Baldassare Longhena, who also built Ca’ Pesaro and the basilica of La Salute. The monumental project proved however to be too ambitious for the Bon finances. The palace had not yet in fact been completed when the architect died in 1682 and soon afterwards, in view of the family’s inability to bear the considerable expense of the project, the works were brought to a halt and the building remained incomplete.

In 1750 Giambattista Rezzonico, whose family had recently received a noble title by paying a large sum of money, bought the building and commissioned Giorgio Massari, the fashionable architect of the time, to complete the works. The palazzo took the name of the Rezzonico family. The works were completed in just 6 years, in time to celebrate the family’s lightning rise in society, which peaked in 1758 when Carlo, Giambattista’s son, was elected pope under the name of Clement XIII. Their success was however fairly short-lived and had already come to an end with the next generation. Lacking male heirs, the family died out in 1810 with the death of Abbondio.

During the 19th century the palace changed owners several times and was gradually stripped of all its furnishings. Later tenants included the poet Robert Browning – who spent the summers of 1887 and 1888 in the palace, and died here in 1889 – and the composer and songwriter Cole Porter, who rented the premises from 1926 to 1927. It had been reduced to a mere empty receptacle when it was purchased by the city of Venice in 1935 to house the 18th-century art collections. In just a short time, furnishings were added to the paintings: everyday objects, also stripped frescoes or ceiling canvases from other city palaces. The result is an extraordinary environmental museum in whose rooms we can see works of one of the most fortunate periods of European art, together with the lavishness and splendor of an 18th-century Venetian mansion.

Ca ‘Rezzonico then underwent various disposals, during which it was stripped of the furnishings. In 1888 it was purchased for 250,000 lire by Robert Barrett Browning, son of the English writers Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who restored it thanks to the financial support of his wife, the American Fannie Coddington. Father Robert, who had financed the purchase, died there, in the mezzanine apartment, on December 12, 1889.

In 1906 Robert Barrett Browning, ignoring an offer made to him by Emperor Wilhelm II of Germany, sold the palace to Count and Deputy Lionello Hierschel de Minerbi, who in 1935 sold it to the Municipality of Venice. Since 1936 it is therefore the seat of the Eighteenth-century Venetian Museum which, in addition to reconstructions of rooms with period furniture and furnishings, houses important pictorial works by Canaletto, Francesco Guardi, Pietro Longhi, Tintoretto, as well as by Tiepolo and numerous terracotta sketches by Giovanni Maria Morlaiter.