Located in the district of Dorsoduro and overlooking the Grand Canal from Palazzo Contarini Michiel and Palazzo Nani Bernardo, Ca ‘Rezzonico is one of the most famous palaces of Venice that now serves as the Venice Museum of the 18th century. It is evident from the early paintings of Venice in 1500 that the site was initially occupied by two buildings, belonging to the aristocratic Bon family.
Construction of a new building on the site began in 1649, when Filippo Bon, a patron of arts, decided to transform the two houses into a single large palazzo and commissioned Baldassare Longhena for the purpose, who was one of the most famous architects of his time and designer of the famous dome of the Church of Santa Maria della Salute, a Venice baroque landmark. By 1661, Longhena had combined the two earlier structures and started to construct the façade facing the canal, which had reached as high as the first floor, when he died in 1682 and Filippo Bon was forced to halt the work, due to financial crunch. Filippo Bon died in 1712 and the already decaying unfinished palace remained incomplete till 1750, when Giambattista Rezzonico, a banker and fabric merchant from Lombardy, bought the building and commissioned Giorgio Massari, a reputed fashionable architect of the time, to complete the works. The palazzo, which took the name of the Rezzonico family, was nearly completed in 1756, before the lightning rise of the family peaked in 1758, when Carlo, the younger brother of Giambattista Rezzonico, was elected pope under the name of Clement XIII and Ludovico Rezzonico married Faustina Savorgnan, uniting the two richest families in Venice.
The palace changed owners several times during the 19th century and was gradually stripped of all its furnishings. In around 1850, the second floor of the palace was rented by the antiquarian and art dealer Jacobo Querci della, who used it as a gallery to sell the priceless paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt, Caravaggio, Canaletto, and other old masters. Later tenants of the building included the painter Robert Barrett Browning, whose father, the poet Robert Browning spent the summers of 1887 and 1888 in the palace and died in his apartment on the mezzanine floor in 1889.
Finally, in June 1935 the city of Venice purchased the almost empty Palazzo and began to transform it into a museum of Venetian art from the 18th century. The collection, which included ceiling frescoes, stripped frescoes or ceiling canvases from other city palaces and collections owned by the municipality were all brought together under the roof of the Ca' Rezzonico, to add more grandeur to the original frescoes on the ceilings. As a result, it became an environmental museum, housing works of one of the most fortunate periods of European art, along with the lavishness and splendour of an 18th-century Venetian mansion.
Visitors generally arrive at the main entrance of the Ca' Rezzonico by gondolas, opening onto the Grand Canal, which leads through a long corridor to the courtyard, decorated with a fountain containing the coat of arms of the Rezzonico family.
From the ground floor, the staircase of honour, equipped with marble balustrades and decorated with statuary created by Giusto Le Court, a leading sculptor in Venice in the late 17th century, leads to the Piano Nobile or the first floor, containing the ceremonial rooms, which include the Grand Salon or Ballroom, Salon of the Allegory, Salon of Pastels, Tiepolo Hall and the Throne Room.
Located at the rear of the building, the Grand Salon or Ballroom, measuring around 46 feet by 78 feet (14 by 24 m) is the largest and most impressive among the ceremonial rooms. Created by Giorgio Massari, the room is double in height, but appears even higher because of the highly realistic optical illusion of Trompe-l'œil painting on the walls and ceiling, created by the Italian painter Gerolamo Mengozzi Colonna. While the centrepiece of the ceiling, painted by Giovanni Battista Crosato, depicts Apollo riding his carriage between Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas, the coat of arms of the Rezzonico family, with a double-headed eagle, is also prominently displayed on the wall of the ballroom facing the entry door. Apart from the two enormous chandeliers made of wood and gilded metal that date to the original period of the building, the ballroom is now also decorated with 18th century statues, carved by the Italian sculptor in wood Andrea Brustolon, which include a statue of an Ethiopian warrior carved of ebony.
The Salon of the Allegory, also on the Piano Nobile, has a large fresco on the ceiling, created by Giovan Battista Tiepolo and his son, depicting a bridal couple in a chariot, led by the sun god, Apollo, framed by Trompe-l'œil paintings of architecture, like the paintings in the Grand salon, and a false balustrade. Other allegorical figures in the salon include a blindfolded cupid, the figure of Fame, holding a trumpet, the three graces on a cloud, a bearded old man with a laurel crown symbolizing Merit and a lion, the symbol of Venice, along with coats of arms. A passage from the Salon leads to a small chapel, suspended over the Rio San Barnaba, probably built by Aurelio Rezzonico or Cardinal Rezzonico, the nephew of Pope Clement XIII, in the second lap of the 18th century.
While the Salon of Pastels, named after the number of pastel portraits by the Venetian Rococo painter Rosalba Carriera and other notable Venetian artists, was originally a room for holding audiences, the Throne Room, located at the end of the Piano Nobile, took its name from an elaborate gilded and sculpted wooden throne, which was used during the brief visit of Pope Pius VI in 1778, on his way from Rome to Vienna, which was also the bridal chamber of Ludovico Rezzonico and Faustina Savorgnan. Apart from the throne, the room contains several fine Chinese porcelain vases, sculpted and gilded tables, mirrors and candlesticks, ornamented with statues of putti, a chubby, winged and naked male child and figures representing the different virtues.
The second floor of the Ca' Rezzonico contains a series of galleries displaying Venetian paintings and decorative arts from the 18th century, including Architectural Caprice and two views of the Grand Canal, painted by Canaletto, which marked the beginning of his famous series of Venice scenes. The ceiling of the Parlour Hall, named after Francesco Guardi's painting The Parlour of the Nuns at San Zaccaria, is decorated with a fresco titled Conjugal Concorde crowned by Virtue in the presence of Justice, Prudence, Temperance, Fame, Abundance was created by Constantino Cedini. The Pulcinella Room contains a group of three frescoes by Giovanni Domenico Tiepolo, named Pulcinella in Love, Pulcinella and the Saltimboques and the Departure of Pulcinella, which were made between 1793 and 1797 at the Villa Zianigo, during the first occupation of Venice by the French and the beginning of the downfall of the Venetian Republic. The floor also contains several other rooms like Antonio Guardi Room, Longhi Hall and Green lacquer room.
The third and top floor of the building contains a recreation of an 18th-century Venetian pharmacy, reconstituted in 1936 with original materials from a pharmacy of the period, located in Campo San Stin and named ai Do San Marchi. It also includes an art gallery devoted to the collection of 264 paintings of collector Egidio Martini, which include the works of the major Venetian masters from the 15th to the end of the 19th century. The mezzanine, accessible by the stairway, contains another gallery containing the collection of Ferrucio Mestrovich and Egidio Martini. While the collection of Ferruccio Mestrovich, a Dalmatian exile and scholar of Veneto painting, consists of about thirty paintings from the 15th to 20th century, Egidio Martini’s donation is regarded as the most important that has been made to the city of Venice since the beginning of the 20th century.