Venice and Life in the Venier Palazzo

This post in inspired by a fantastic article from the Guardian. I wonder if the story would provide the basis for a TV series.  But who would play Peggy Guggenheim?

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The palazzo looks like this from the outside

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It occupies space on the grand canal so one would expect a grand design. And it was meant to be far grander than it turned out. By design (completed in 1749), it was to extend up to five stories, but for reasons that are not altogether clear, only the ground floor was built. Some say that the patron, Mr. Venier ran out of cash.

And who was this Venier?

The Venier family, who claimed descent from the gens Aurelia of ancient Rome (the Emperor Valerian and Gallienus were from this family), were among the oldest Venetian noble families. Over the centuries they provided eighteen Procurators of St Mark’s and three Doges. Antonio Venier (Doge, 1382-1400) had such a strong sense of justice that he allowed his own son to languish and die in prison for his crimes. Francesco Venier (Doge, 1553-56) was the subject of a superb portrait by Titian (Madrid, Fundaciòn Thyssen-Bornemisza). Sebastiano Venier was a commander of the Venetian fleet at the Battle of Lepanto (1571) and later became Doge (1577-78). A lively strutting statue of him, by Antonio dal Zotto (1907), can be seen today in the church of Ss. Giovanni e Paolo, Venice.

Here is the Titan portrait of Francesco Venier

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and here is that lively strutting statue of the great Sebastiano

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Fascinating, but perhaps less fascinating than what happened at the palazzo in the 20th century. The palazzo became the home to a succession of amazing women.

The first was Marchesa Luisa Casati.

She was heiress to an industrial fortune and married to a distinguished aristocrat. But she had fallen under the spell of the writer and aesthete Gabriele D’Annunzio and, in thrall to his creed that “one must make one’s own life as one makes a work of art”, she was ready to walk out on her marriage and dedicate herself to art.

To say that she did this would be an understatement. She was a work of art in herself and she wanted a record of it – commissioning portrait after portrait. Here are a few photographic images

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Luisa Casati was followed by Doris, Lady Castlerosse, called “The most notorious courtesan of 1930s society

Her long list of lovers – including such unlikely conquests as Cecil Beaton and Winston Churchill – had prompted certain English drawing rooms to close their doors to her. In Venice, she planned to make a fresh start as a European salonnière, and with money from her then current lover, Margot Hoffman, she had the palazzo refurbished to an expensive modern gloss.

Indeed, the story of her marriage to the viscount and her incredible string of affairs is startling. It is claimed that she had affairs with both Winston and his son. Knowing a bit about Randolph, I would not doubt that part of the story.  For more, check out the above link. Hre is Doris in her prime

Image result for Doris, Lady Castlerosse

And you might think that this closes the saga of the Venier Palazzo as a center of art and society. Wrong. Some years after the war, along came Peggy Guggenheim.

She remained there for the remaining 30 years of her life and, during the summer, opened it up to the public. It was an eccentrically informal arrangement, with Peggy’s collection mixed into the muddle of her domestic life. Guests staying at the palazzo would find eager art tourists wandering into their bedrooms and (given the lack of toilet facilities) catch them peeing discreetly in the garden. But over time, the Venier palazzo became one of Venice’s major attractions, and a spur to the city’s development as an international showcase for contemporary art.

What an amazing parade! What a great story!


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