I have remarked in the past that for a person of my advanced age and personal taste, the chief reason for being in Venice during the Biennale d’Arte (and this applies even more to the Biennale d’Architettura) is the opportunity to get (for free) inside palazzi that are not normally open to the public.
Having visited the Anish Kapoor exhibition at the Accademia, we went up to Palazzo Manfrin, just inside the Canareggio Canal, to see more – Sir Anish has apparently taken on this semi-derelict palace as a Foundation. There was indeed more, though I am afraid my tolerance level for blood and guts in two and three dimensions is limited. (I much preferred the ethereal and radiant column of air which ascended into the dome of San Giorgio Maggiore in (I was horrified to discover) 2011.)
However, the building itself, which dates back to 1520, was originally owned by the Priuli family, of which my favourite member is Paola, now to be seen in the Querini Stampalia Museum. Pietro Priuli married Andriana Venier in 1517, and the palace was known in its first incarnation as Palazzo Manfrin Venier.
In the 1720s, the building was reworked by the architect Andrea Tirali (c. 1660–1737), who was also responsible for the Ponte dei Tre Archi near the palazzo, and the façades of San Vidal and San Nicolò di Tolentino, to say nothing of the San Domenico chapel in San Giovanni e Paolo, which holds the tombs of the Valier doges, and the campanile of San Martino in Burano.
However, in 1787, the Venier/Priuli descendants sold the palazzo to one Girolamo Manfrin, originally from Zara (now Zadar in Croatia), a wealthy tobacco merchant who had acquired the title of count, but who had also spent time in gaol because of irregularities in his business behaviour. He altered the façade to a neoclassical design, and had the ceilings decorated by fresco painters including Giovanni Battista Mengardi (1738–96), a pupil of Giambattista Tiepolo, but after his death in 1802, the palazzo, inherited by his daughter, went downhill. The gardens were acquired as a public park, and the building was used for some time as a school, but it was in a state of near dereliction when it was acquired by Kapoor.
This selection of photos gives an idea of the interior: especially notable is the gallery surrounding the biggest room on the piano nobile.
Walking back down Strada Nova (possibly the only boring street in Venice, containing mostly chain stores), we spotted another opportunity to pry, at Palazzo Mora, now described as the European Cultural Centre, but it was not clear what was on display (nor is it clear on the Biennale website), and tickets were 12 euros each, so we didn’t indulge.
We had better luck next day in Campo San Polo, where after a good lunch in Birreria La Corte, one of our favourite haunts (now run by the offspring of the two brothers whom we remember from decades ago, and with a rather more sophisticated menu on offer, which is a shame in some ways), we went to Palazzo Donà Brusa, almost next door.
This is one of the five palazzi built by various branches of the Donà, one of the oldest patrician families, who were among those who fled from Aquileia after its sack by Attila the Hun in 452 to found a new city in the marshes of the lagoon. Three members of the family were doges. The name Brusa comes from a later inhabitant, Giovanni Francesco Brusa, a choirmaster and composer, who, living from 1700 to after 1768 and with gaps in his career, may have in fact been two different people, a father and son.
The palazzo is now owned by the Signum Foundation, and currently displays works by a group of Spanish artists inspired by the Altamira cave paintings – their works were not unattractive, but were somewhat overwhelmed by their setting.
As in most palazzi, the ground floor is an unroofed courtyard entrance hall, with water- and/or land-gates, a well, and a staircase leading up to the first floor – the ‘real’ house.
Our third Biennale visit (apologies for the limited number, connected to my current state of health) was to Palazzo Contarini Polignac, which we have been to before, as its Magazzino Gallery is frequently open during the Biennale, this time for ‘Chun Kwang Young: Times Reimagined’, promoted by the Boghossian Foundation, a startlingly beautiful exhibition of two- and three-dimensional works created from paper mulberry. (I have to confess that I was less excited by the ‘Hanji House’ created in the garden by Stefano Boeri, though it was nice to look across the Grand Canal at Palazzo Barbaro.)
According to Winnaretta Singer (1865–1943), the American sewing-machine millionairess who married as her second husband the French composer Prince Edmond de Polignac (1834–1901), he was standing on balcony of Palazzo Barbaro, then the home of the American banker Daniel Curtis, when he decided that they must acquire the Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo opposite, and, after waiting for the South American who used it as a love-nest to break up with his lover and move out, Winnaretta duly bought it, and it became a salon for the artistic and musical community, and especially for French visitors, including Proust, Reynaldo Hahn, and Monet: see more here.
The branch of the Contarini family which owned it from the second half of the sixteenth century gave themselves the distinguishing title ‘da Zaffo’ because they had wide landholdings in the Middle East and wanted to be known as Lords of Jaffa. Like the Venier and the Donà, the Contarini were an ancient Venetian family, claiming descent from the Roman Aurelia Cotta clan, and having no fewer than eight doges among them.
The palazzo’s architecture is attributed to either Mauro Codussi or the less well known Giovanni Buora. It once contained frescoes by Giandomenico Tiepolo, but apparently only a few fragments survive. We were not allowed to take photographs inside the building (which is still a private residence), but Him Indoors did get shots of some of the art works.
We also tried to visit the Kazakhstan pavilion, but sadly it was closed every time we passed …
One other thing we did was to visit the church of Santa Maria degli Angeli in Murano, the original burial place of Doge Sebastiano Venier. Appropriately enough, one disembarks at the Venier vaporetto stop, and walks along to the church, which is small, surrounded by trees and flowers, and (alas) on that day closed.
And we also browsed in one of the really good glass shops (as opposed to the dozens of knick-knackeries), where I fell in love with this dish. It costs a mere 1900 euros …
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