A trip to Venice is not complete unless you make time to visit at least one or more of the magnificent palazzos adorning the Grand Canal. Among the most stunning is the Ca’ d’Oro , now the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro, a museum housing important masterpieces of Renaissance painting and sculpture. The Ca’ d’Oro is located in the sestiere of Cannaregio.
The Ca’ d’Oro was commissioned and build during 1421-37 by Marino Contarini, a member of one of the city’s most prestigious families. It came to be called “House of Gold” by contemporaries in the 15th century when it was built because many features of the ornate façade were gilded in gold leaf. The building itself remains as a classic example of the Venetian Gothic style popular during the 15th century.
Contarini inherited the property in 1412 from the family of his first wife, Soradamor Zen, who died only 5 years later in 1417. Historical records suggest he may have built the palace for the standard reason to build such homes on the Grand Canal, as a symbol of his family’s social stature and wealth, but also perhaps as a monument to his deceased wife. Interestingly, Contarini was personally involved in the design of the entire project, including the architecture and the decorative aspects. This may account for some of the more features of the palazzo that are untypical relative to the style of that period, such as its asymmetry. At the same time, these deviation from the typical early-Renaissance emphasis elements such as harmony and symmetry in art and architecture may have reflected a general local shift in tastes among Venetians and a preference for more ornate and elaborate design and decoration.
The architectural design of the facade was done by Venetian sculpture Bartolomeo Bon. You might recognize his style in other distinctive monuments in Venice such as the Basilica di Santa Maria dei Frari and Palazzo Ducale. Yet the palazzo is most famous for the lavish painted decoration of the façade, done by French painter Zuan di Franza during 1431-37 . In his contract with Zuan, Contarini stipulated to the very last detail how the façade was to be painted, with directions about which elements to gild with gold leaf, where to apply the ultramarine pigment, a very rare and expensive material made of crushed lapis lazuli, and how to oil the inlaid sections of rare precious marbles to make them appear more brilliant. Such a sumptuous design plan used over 22,000 sheets of gold leaf at a cost of approximately 8.3 ducats per thousands sheets, which came to be roughly 8% of the entire cost for the project. This expense is particularly remarkable given the fact that Contarini must have realized that the gold leaf and pigment would not endure for long in the severe weather conditions common on the Grand Canal in Venice.
Today the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro thankfully contributes to the preservation of the building, which remains one of the most elegant and admired of the 15th-century palazzos on the Grand Canal, yet the façade reveals little of its original polychromatic sheen. During the modern era, the palazzo sadly suffered some unfortunate renovations that stripped it of many of its important original features, like the inner courtyard’s Gothic stairway, ornate balconies, and the well head sculpted by Bartolomeo Bon. In 1894, Baron Giorgio Franchetti purchased the palazzo and worked to restore the building to its original splendor and design. In 1922 the state acquired the Ca d’Oro in a bequest from Franchetti’s estate along with his art collection. The palazzo is now preserved as a museum and houses the Galleria Giorgio Franchetti, where visitors can see such Renaissance masterpiece paintings as Paris Bordon’s The Sleeping Venus and Titan’s Venus with a Mirror.
There are lots of hidden places to discover behind the palazzo between Cannaregio and San Marco. Request a local from the Prontopia app for a better experience in Venice and help getting where you need to go, and discovering local places along the way!
Photo credit:(facade image)