ONE OF THE MOST IMPORTANT LATE-GOTHIC PALAZZI IN VENICE
The palazzo was built, starting in 1421, by the rich Venetian merchant Marino Contarini on the site of a previous Veneto-Byzantine residence that had come into his ownership.
Important craftsmen worked on the famous mercantile middle-class residence on the Grand Canal, including Marco d’Amadio, Lombard workers headed by Matteo Raverti, the sculptors Giovanni and Bartolomeo Bon and the painter ‘Zuane de Franza’, who gilded some architectural elements on the facade that gave the building its name but are now lost along with the rich polychrome decorations that completed it.
The innovatively effective loggias on three levels were added to the building, reconstructed on the plan of the previous home. The one at water level is simpler, while the two on the upper floors have differently decorated multi-lancet windows. The crowning with spires of alternating heights on the cornice provides a final ethereal diaphragm. The entire facade is clad in slightly streaked marble with soft shadings of colour and is bordered by red Verona marble added to the architectural orchestration, also used in the three balusters of the second loggia. At ground level, a high crenelated wall separates the calle from the courtyard, which is reached through an imposing door surmounted by an angel holding the Contarini coat of arms.
Divided after Contarini’s death among his heirs, Ca d’Oro changed ownership several times suffering internal alterations that led to significant deterioration. It was restored towards the end of the nineteenth century by Giovanni Meduna, who added sections that were of little coherence with the original architectural language, especially on the facade, and demolished several original internal structures. Purchased in 1894 by Baron Giorgio Franchetti, Ca’ d’Oro was stripped of the historicist additions made by Meduna and the interiors returned, as far as possible, to their fifteenth-century state. Mosaic paving made to the model of that in St Mark’s and two-coloured cladding of the walls in white and red marble were then added to the ground floor portico.
Ca’ d’Oro houses the important art collection of Baron Giorgio Franchetti (1865-1927) on two floors. He donated this to the Italian state in 1916, along with the building itself, after he had returned it to its original splendour with extensive restorations.
The Giorgio Franchetti collection, comprising furniture, paintings, medals, tapestries, bronzes and sculptures, was extended over the years by the addition of Renaissance works from suppressed or demolished religious buildings and collections from the Gallerie dell’Accademia and the Museo Archeologico, while a new exhibition section dedicated to Venetian ceramics was added in the adjacent Palazzo Duodo in 1992.
The visit to the palazzo includes more than just the gallery, opened to the public in 1927, also taking in the early Venetian warehouse-residence. The internal courtyard is particularly interesting with the stunning floor mosaic in antique marble evoking early Christian basilicas, laid by the baron himself, and the original well-head sculpted by Bartolomeo Bon in 1427. The ashes of Giorgio Franchetti, the ideal custodian of the building and its fate, lie in the atrium under a porphyry stone.
The absolute masterpiece and heart of the collection is the painting of Saint Sebastian by Andrea Mantegna, for which Baron Franchetti had a marble decorated chapel specially built, in the centre of which the painting – one of the artist’s most dramatic works – is housed inside an altar emphasising its isolation.
Among the masterpieces of Renaissance sculpture displayed in the ‘portego’ on the first floor, the Double Portrait by Tullio Lombardo inspired by ancient funerary sculpture, the Bust of a Boy by Gian Cristoforo Romano from the Franchetti Collection and the bas-relief lunette by Jacopo Sansovino with the Virgin and Child may be admired, while the bronzes include precious reliefs by Andrea Riccio from the dei Servi church and a very refined Apollo by Jacopo Bonaccolsi, called l’Antico, from the Pasqualigo collection.
The most prestigious examples in the Franchetti gallery on the second floor are not to be missed: Venus in the Mirror by Titian, Sleeping Venus by Paris Bordon, two Views by Francesco Guardi and, among the most important Flemish works, a small Crucifixion attributed to Jan Van Eyck and a Portrait of Marcello Durazzo by Van Dyck.
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