Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Art in the Palazzo

Palazzo Grimani Museo entrance
In an historic city like Venice, any enterprise is tinged with a sense of history, no matter what it is. This is particularly true of museums. Unlike America, where new museums are built anew specifically for their intended purpose, every museum in the city of Venice is essential two museums in one - the collection of whatever has been curated, plus the physical building where the museum is housed.

Sometimes this works out harmoniously - the beautiful Baroque Ca' Rezzonico, which was completed in 1756, houses the Museum of 18th Century Venice. The artifacts are displayed in rooms that are themselves displays of 18th century architecture - a wonderfully evocative way to experience it.

Historic gondola displayed at the Ca' Rezzonico
 Ironically almost none of the artifacts at the Ca' Rezzonico are original to the palazzo - it had been stripped of its fixtures in the 19th century and sold to English vacationers - notably, the son of the poet Robert Browning. Everything here today - perfectly in place as it is - was brought in from other collections.

Other juxtapositions are somewhat odd. The Ca' Pesaro is home to a Gallery of International Modern Art and to a Museum of Oriental Art. One wanders through the galleries of Klee, Moore and Kandinsky, or broad-shouldered 20th century Socialist art - while at the same time gaping at the amazing Tiepolo painted ceilings that soar above the paintings.

Ground floor at the Palazzo Mocenigo with artwork
At the Palazzo Mocenigo, the duality is a little different. This palazzo is home to the Museum and Study Centre of the History of Fabrics and Costumes. The house itself was built in the late Gothic era, but extensively remodeled, and was home to the Mocenigo family. When we visited, an exhibition of textile art was featured in the main room.

Painting of a dog, that appears in a passageway in the Palazzo Mocenigo
 The other rooms on the floor were the preserved rooms of the Mocenigo family, who lived in the palace up until 1945, when the last family member died and left the building to the city. In addtion to the displays of costumes, you can see everyday family items, including signed photographs, family portraits, and even the bathroom fixtures. It's all very homey - all the more so as you smell the damp steam rising from the canal outside the open window.

I love the painting of a small dog that appears in a passageway. I obediently restrained myself from photographing it, since photos were forbidden, but still it haunted me. After much searching I found the image at the Museum's collection data base. Don't you just love his crazy grin? If I'm wrong to have saved it and brought it here for you, I don't want to be right!

Palazzo Grimani courtyard
The Palazzo Grimani is another ancient family house, home to powerful Doges - and later, theatre owners. In fact, the palace's heritage as a museum dates back to the 16th century, when Giovanni Grimani displayed the many archeological and classical artifacts he collected. The palace was in a state of decay up until 1981, when it was purchased by the state and the slow process of restoration began.

Antonio Grimani, December 18, 1434 –  May 7, 1523, who built the palace
Among the many wonders of the Palazzo Grimani is the "Hall of Foliage" or Sala dei fogliami. The ceiling in this room is adorned with a fresco by artist Camillo Mantovano that shows an amazing illusionistic leafy, fruit-laden, bird-filled canopy. Some of the species featured are recent discoveries from the Americas, like corn and tobacco plants, and esoteric emblems and mottos referring to Giovanni’s struggles with the church authorities.

Please do not hesitate to click to "embiggen"
 It is a room that makes you turn your gaze up, sink onto a bench, and stare in awe. Can you imagine? This was painted in the 16th century, just fifty some years after Columbus discovered America and all its botanical wonders. The lush, almost kaleidoscopic foliage is like a forest canopy arching overhead.

As you might divine from my post, there are no cameras allowed in these museums. I obediently complied with the rules, thinking that perhaps I would be able to find images of the sights that thrilled me online or in books. Sadly, there's not much available. You can search the Catalog of the Fondazione Musei Civici Venezia, but since it's in Italian, you will have to know which search terms to input. That's how, after hours of searching I finally found the image of the little dog painting in the Palazzo Mocenigo, above.

Lion carving, Ca' Rezzonico
These museums are only a small selection of the wonderful historic museums of Venice. The bigger, more famous museums in the height of tourist season were too crowded for my tastes, but these small museums were perfect - quirky, quiet, a little odd, and always fascinating.

My museum tolerance before overload is generally two hours per museum. And I can't really take in more than two museums per day. Plus - Venice's museums, unlike modern museums in the US, aren't usually climate controlled. On a steamy July afternoon, wandering around a roasting piano nobile while gazing at ancient frescoes and oils gives one an authentic Venetian experience, but it's not something one can endure for a long time without taking a break for a Spritz!

The Ca' D'oro
 There are a couple more museums on my list I wish we could have taken in - notably the Casa di Carlo Gondoli, which is a museum of theatre, and the beautiful Ca' D'oro, which faced our flat across the Grand Canal.

I can't wait to go back to Venice and visit them again  - and this time - perhaps snap a few surreptitious photos for my own enjoyment.


ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®© said...

My museum tolerance before overload is generally two hours per museum.

I can't even handle that. Thanks for suffering for us and taking these pictures!

Janet said...

I'm glad you searched for that dog picture...adorable! Reminds me a bit of my late dog, Max.

smalltownme said...

I love to look, but I don't like to read every little detail on all the placards. Two hours is about right for me. That's about how long I spent at the Getty Villa last week.

Karen (formerly kcinnova) said...

I can spend hours and hours in museums, reading every little placard. It drives my husband nuts! My 20yo son is the same way but much slower than me. However, given the lack of a/c in the building, I would probably only last 45 minutes before heading for a Spritz. I don't do well with heat.