Ca’ d’Oro (Galleria G. Franchetti) and the  Piazza San Marco

From the hotel we walk East, along the busy road that runs from the station to the Rialto and San Marco. We continue our way and pass a very wide street, for Venetian standards, that was laid in the 19th century: the Strada Nova. We take a right at a McDonald’s onto Calle di Ca’ d’Oro.

Ca’ d’Oro on the Canal Grande large size

Photo: netNicholls

Ca’ d’Oro big size
Ca’ d’Oro (Galleria G. Franchetti) facade Venice

picture: Pantchoa / François de Nodrest

Ca’ d’Oro is unique in the gothic architecture of La Serenissima. A weird, very expensive and beautifully dressed duckling on the Canal Grande. The only typical Venetian thing about the Ca’ d’Oro  is the division of the rooms.

Ca’ d’Oro large size        Wikipedia facade very large size
Ca' d'Oro facade Venice


Ca’ d’Oro Canal Grande large size        Ca’d’ Oro Canal Grande      Window side and the  Ca’ d’Oro and the  Canal Grande
Santa Maria Assunta en de Santa Fosca Torcello luchtfoto


Ippolito Caffi ‘The Canal Grande’ 19th century detail Ca’d’Oro in its entirety and lage size
Ippolito Caffi detail of: 'The Canal Grande towards  Ca' Pesaro' oil on canvas, 19th century, Ca' Rezzonico-Pinacoteca Egidio Martini

Ippolito Caffi ‘The Canal Grande towards  Ca’ Pesaro’ oil on canvas, 19th century, Ca’ Rezzonico-Pinacoteca Egidio Martini

Much is known about its construction, since the documents are still available. It was built between 1423 and 1437 in commission of Marino Contarini. Marino wanted to impress. The gondolas should at least stop for a bit at his palace. Contarini was part of one of the richest noble families bought the palazzo from the Zeno family in 1412. His first wife died five years later. Contarini had the old palace from Zeno demolished to build a new palazzo on this land, to the memory of his wife, Soramador Zeno. Many decorative elements of the old palace were incorporated in the Ca’ d’Oro.

Ca’ d’Oro exterior with mooring and view from the androne on the Canal Grande
Ca'd' Oro androne Venetië

photo (mouseover): alain fontana

Contarini himself gave the orders for the different parts of the construction. He also took care of the materials. We also know the two stonemason workshops involved: a stonemason from Milan, Matteo Raverti and the Venetian Giovanni Bon. The six arcs of the piano nobile are Raverti’s. The Ca d’Oro was painted in a very showy way. The French painter Zuan di Franza gilded the balls at the roof decoration, the finials in the tracery, the pointed windows, the lion heads, the foliage at the corner capitals and the round frames around the golden knobs. The coats of arms on the capitals and the consoles in the form of lions, supporting the eaves were painted with the most precious lapis lazuli (read Cennini about lapis lazuli). This is absurd if you know how corrosive the salty air and wind are in this city. There is a reason the house still bears the name oro, or golden. The white Istrian stone was decorated with white lead and oil, creating a beautiful effect of veined marble. The red marble from Verona was also oiled and varnished to make the colour come out more.

Ca’ d’Oro detail facade big size         Detail: Window     Windows
Ca’d’Oro facade detail

The Ca’d’Oro still leaves a big impression because of the complexity of the tracing and the other architectural decorations. It is apparent how much this palazzo owes to Ducale, especially when seeing the six arches of the piano nobile.

Ca’ d’Oro and Palazzo Ducale
Palazzo Ducale Ca' d'Oro facade Venice

The work of the Milanese gallery of Raverti is very recognisable. This gallery also worked on the Milan cathedral. The refined details of the facade dominate the structure.

Facade Ca’ d’Oro details
Ca' d'Oro details facade Venice

An ‘overall plan’ or modular system as is the case in San Giovanni Crisostomo is hard to find. The three higher ‘pinnacles’ or ‘crenulation’ in the middle for instance do not correspond to the symmetrical facade at all.

Ca’ d’Oro staircase    Staircase large    Large size     Detail staircase
Ca' d'Oro staircase courtyard Venice

photo: Stephanie C. Leone

Baron Franchetti restored the Ca’ d’Oro in the beginning of the 20th century. The staircase was rebuilt, the original well was bought in Paris and the arch frieze under the eaves was also restored. Ruskin, who wrote the famous book ‘The Stones of Venice’ in 1853 (which can be read online here) was extremely agitated about the architectural interventions of the previous tenant. The famous ballerina, Mademoiselle Taglioni made barbaric changes to this old palace. Ruskin writes about this in an angry letter:

‘I saw the beautiful slabs of red marble, which formed the bases of its balconies, and were carved into noble spiral mouldings of strange sections, half a foot deep, dashed to pieces when I was last in Venice; its glorious interior staircase, by far the most interesting Gothic monument of the kind in Venice, had been carried away, piece by piece, and sold for waste marble, two years before.’

Cited from: D. Howard, ‘The Architectural History of Venice’, B.T. Batsford, London, 1987 p. 93.

Ca’ d’Oro entrance      The androne      From above
Ca' d'Oro entrance and the androne courtyard


Ca’ d’Oro courtyard large size zoom in      Well  large
Ca' d'Oro courtyard Venice

Franchetti had a beautiful collection of artworks. This collection can now be admired in the Ca’ d’Oro. At the same time you can witness what a Gothic palazzo looks like now. Click here for the official website of the museum, Galleria G. Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro.

Ca’ d’Oro large size      Detail       Floor
Santa Maria Assunta en de Santa Fosca Torcello luchtfoto
Ca’ d’Oro interior and outside first floor
Ca'd'Oro facade top floor Venice

Photo: Diego de Crespos

Galleria G. Franchetti alla Ca’ d’Oro

Layout of the museum:
First floor:
1. Mantegna (Wikipedia), Jacopo Sansovino, Tullio Lombardo (Wikipedia)  and sculpture XVI and XVII century
2. Medailles, bronzen  en XV eeuwse schilderijen uit Veneto
3. Vittore Carpaccio, B. Diana,  XV t/m XVIII eeuw
4. Bronzen uit Veneto en XVI eeuwse schilderijen uit Veneto en Lombardije
5. Schilderijen  XIV tot XVI uit midden-Italie en Toscane

 Second floor:
6.   Paintings  manierism 
7.   Tintoretto, Paris Bordone, Van Dyck, Alessando Vittoria
8.   Fresco Giorgione, Tizian, Il Pordenone, Gian Lorenzo Bernini bozzetto’s  bust cardinal Pietro Valier  and Guardi
9.  Ceramics
10. Ceramics
11. Flemish paintings XV tot XVIJan van Eyck ‘Crucifixion’ (school) 
12. Flemish landscapes and interiors
13. Flemish paintings XVII eeuw

Ca’ d’Oro carpets second floor room 7 large size
Ca' d'Oro Galleria G. Franchetti alla Ca' d'Oro museum zaal 7 met de tapijten

The collection of Venetian sculptures located on the first floor of the museum is especially remarkable. One of the most beautiful pieces is the marble double-portrait by Tullio Lombardo (also self-portrait).

Tullio Lombardo ‘double-portrait’  large size
Tullio Lombardo Ca' d'Oro dubbelportret Galleria G. Franchetti

In addition to all the paintings we encounter during the excursion, the statues will provide a pleasant change. We also find a polyptych of Antonio Vivarini concerning the Crucifixion. Mantegna’s sombre painting of Saint Sebastian is regarded as the showpiece of the museum.

Andrea Mantegna big size    Sebastian
Andrea Mantegna Sebastian Ca’d’Oro Galleria G. Franchetti

The second floor displays works by famous Flemish and Dutch painters, such as Jan van Scorel, Paul Brill, Gabriel Metsu and Jan Steen, alongside works of important Italian painters (Tintoretto, Titian and Bordone). We also find interesting fragments of frescos by Giorgione and Titian on this floor, which come from the facade of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi: Sleeping Venus by Giorgione and fragments from the Battle between Men and Monsters by Titian.

The difference between Giorgione and Titian can be seen in the remains of the frescos of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. The Fondaco dei Tedeschi was rebuilt after a fire in 1505. On the side of the Merceria at the Calle del Buso. It was well received, but now only remnants remain, observable in the Galleria Franchetti in Ca’ d’Oro. The sculpture of Giorgione was taken off the facade in 1937, as well as the seven fragments by Titian, in 1967.

Giorgione ‘Sleeping Venus’ facade Fondaco dei Tedeschi
Giorgione sleeping Venus facade ondaco dei Tedeschi

A major difference in style. Titian painted a monumental Justitia. Justitia is displayed dynamically, the head drawn clearly with realistic colours. Giorgione painted a stylised and elegant nude figure, almost entirely based on colour. The frescos of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi were painted in 1508-1509. This was a difficult time for La Serenissima.

Titian ‘Justitia’ facade  Fondaco dei Tedeschi
Titian 'Justitia' facade Fondaco dei Tedeschi

The League of Cambrai endangered Venice. The virtues of Venice were used as a symbol, hence Justitia. Titian’s fresco had little to do with the work of Giorgione from that time. Titian went more towards the classics. At that moment, so early in his career, the twenty year old Titian was very interested in Sebastiano del Piombo, and especially in the realistic shapes that are depicted on a monumental scale. Titian’s paintings were much more realistic than those of Giorgione at that time. It was tragic for Giorgione, if one believes  Lodovico Dolce’s (Wikipedia) story from 1557, that:

[…] some of Giorgione’s friends could have been mistaken: “generally believing, when the figure (that is, Justice) was unveiled, that is was the work of Giorgione … [they] rejoiced at it, as the best thing he had done for a long time.” Giorgione’s reaction, Dolce recounts, was to shut himself up in his house for several days, in despair “because he saw that a young man knew more than he did.”

Quoted from: Filippo Pedrocco, ‘Titian The complete Paintings’, Thames&Hudson, London, 2000 p. 21.

We continue our way towards San Marco. We discussed the famous Piazza San Marco with its adjacent buildings in class. This section will also discuss the architecture of San Marco and the Palazzo Ducale.

Piazza San Marco

Piazza San Marco is one of the most famous squares in the world. The Piazza was for centuries the place to be for public ceremonies and religious celebrations.

Gentile Bellini ‘Procession Piazza San Marco’ big size
Gentile Bellini Processie Piazza San Marco
Giovanni Battista Brustoloni, after  Canaletto,  ‘Christian procession among the galleries around San Marco Square’, 1766
Whole  and big size
Giovanni Battista Brustoloni, after  Canaletto,  ‘ Christian procession among the galleries around San Marco Square’, 1766

Also today it is the centre of the city, with its many terraces, tourists and pigeons. The two famous buildings of Venice are located on the East side: the San Marco, the cathedral of Venice and the Palazzo Ducale, the former residence of the Venetian doges and also centre of power of the Republic.

The genesis of the Piazza San Marco

Originally, this place was the orchard of the nuns from the nearby San Zaccaria. When the nuns sacrificed their trees in the ninth century for the construction of the Basilica and the Palazzo Ducale, the Piazza we can admire today was created one step at a time. The piazza San Marco is the only square in the city that is called ‘piazza’. Other squares are indicated with ‘campo’ or ‘pizzetta’ (little square).

Click here for a map with buildings and their names

1. Piazzetta dei Leoncini today    of the year 1735 (Michele Marieschi)
2. Torre dell’Orologio today     c. 1730 Canaletto
3. Propcuratie Vecchie today   anno 1709 (Luca Carlevarijs)
4. Ala Napoleonica today   (site Correr museum)    of the year 1735 S. Germaine (Canaletto)
5. Procuratie Nuove today   of the year 1742-17465 (Canaletto)
6. Campanile today    18th century Campanile (Francesco Guardi)
7. Loggia Campanile today   of the year 1537 Loggia Campanile  (Canaletto)
8. Piazza San Marco today    Piazza San Marco 18th  century (Francesco Guardi)
9. Piazzatta  today    of the year 1849 Piazzetta by moonlight (Friedrich Nerly)

Piazza and Piazzetta San Marco in  urban surroundings big size            Situation in the year 1490
Piazza and Piazzetta San Marco in  urban surroundings aerial Venice
Piazza and Piazzetta today big size   old situation before Sansovino’s interventions big size
 Piazza and Piazzetta San Marco Ducale aerial

photo: matteo colombo

The square is made up of two connected squares; the Piazzetta, the little square where the two columns stand, and the large square in front of San Marco: the Piazza. The main square was used for processions, while the Piazzetta was mainly used for political purposes. The space between the two columns was quite popular for staging executions. The largest part of the Piazza already had its arcades in the twelfth century, as can be seen in Gentile Bellini’s painting. Since then, little has changed about the square. Only the North side of the Piazza was rebuilt by Bartolommeo Buon because of a fire. This wing is now called Procuratie Vecchie. The procurators lived opposite the old procuratie. According to Vasari, Sansovino was the first one who wanted to make major changes to the entire square.

Titian ‘Doge Andrea Gritti’ 1546-1548 big size
Titian Doge Andrea Gritti 1546-1548

With the aid of doge Gritti, they started to clean up the square during the first year Jacopo Sansovino was proto (architect). Wooden stalls and even latrines could be found around the two columns. One could exchange money at stalls near the bell tower (campanile). Vegetable and meat stalls were also present. The buildings opposite the Ducale were dubious hotels and inns. Many cheese and salami shops were located along the lagoon where the Zecca is now located. Cleaning up this mess turned out to be a difficult and long-drawn-out affair. Do not forget that the stalls and shops made good money and also yielded quite a bit of tax money because of how bustling the area was. Some were in fact legal businesses and had acquired rights. Visitors like the Crusaders needed cheap hotels. Also, no open spots were available in the city during the 16th century, so where else would they go? After the decision was made to clean up the stalls around the columns, new vegetable stalls arose in front of the Mint. In 1531, the Supra decided to remove all stalls and stores from the squares. This was probably an idea by Jacopo Sansovino. But the sales brought in good money, so the illegal stalls often returned. It was a difficult and tough fight. The punishment was twenty-five lira, nothing compared to what was earned. In 1551, stand owners were threatened with fifteen days imprisonment.

The separation between the political (palazzo Ducale) and economic centres (Rialto) was nothing new. It was a very old Italian tradition that was revived by Alberti and Filarete. The separation was however not as pure, as shown by the story of the stalls. The Rialto also had some political elements. Jacopo wanted to fully restore the separation between the political and economic centres.


Politcal centre
Piazza San Marco Ducale piazzetta aerial
When Sansovino arrives in Venice in 1527, quite a number of buildings around the Piazza San Marco and the Piazzetta are in deplorable condition. At the same time, the economy began to thrive, a happy coincidence. Old Veneto-Byzantine buildings were still located on the south of the main square, Piazza, and on the west side of the Piazzatta. Now that the north side of the Piazza was restored, the old buildings looked quite abysmal in comparison. The procurators that lived here were constantly confronted with this problem. Furthermore, the maintenance of the old Veneto-Byzantine houses was a costly affair. Some houses were even on the brink of collapse. On July 14, 1536, Sansovino was asked to develop a model for a new apartment building up at the San Geminiano (a church that was demolished under Napoleon; see Canaletto’s Piazza San Marco).

The construction of the new building did not start at the south side of the Piazza, but on the west side of the Piazzetta. The exact discussions that took place among the procurators are unknown. Construction started at the bakery close to the Campanile on the Piazzetta. A model made by Sansovino was the starting point. Precisely at this moment, on March 6, 1537, a decision was made to erect a library for the collection of Cardinal Bessarion. This Cardinal left a beautiful collection of manuscripts to the city.

Jacopo’s son, Francesco Sansovino, writes in his guide on Venice that his father planned to make the building on the south side of the Piazza a two-story building, just like the library. Scamozzi completed the building on the south side with three stories and a mezzanine. Sansovino would probably also be forced to construct more than two stories, since the apartments brought in large amounts of money.

picture: evan.chakroff

Jacopo was the first architect who was able to undertake a radically new and large plan in the Renaissance. Sansovino emphasises unity by creating a continuous arcade along the entire square and the Piazzetta. Along with the approach by Jacopo, Michelangelo was working on the Campidoglio (click here for the story about the Campidoglio). Sansovino created unity, harmony and clarity in the centre.

The square is bordered on three sides by 16th century arcades, and on one side by the Basilica San Marco.

Canaletto ‘Piazza and the Piazzetta San Marco’
Canaletto Piazza and Piazzetta San Marco

The beautifully decorated 15th century Torre dell’’Orologio (bell tower) is located on the north side of the square. This was originally intended for orientation of sailors. The tower displays a statue of Mary, who is hailed on Ascension by the Three Kings who appear from the side doors. Visit the  Torre dell’Orologio click here.

‘On a terrace at the top of the tower are two great bronze figures, hinged at the waist, which strike the hours on a bell. One is old and the other young, to show the passing of time and, although said to represent shepherds (they are wearing sheepskins) or giants (they are huge figures of great mass, necessary so that their form can be recognized at a distance) they are known as “the Moors” because of the dark patina acquired by the bronze. The bell is also original and is signed by Simeone Campanato who cast it at the Arsenal in 1497. Below this level is the winged Lion of Saint Mark with the open book, before a blue background with gold stars.
Below again, is a semi-circular gallery with statues of the Virgin and Child seated, in gilt beaten copper. On either side are two large blue panels showing the time: the hour on the left in Roman numerals and the minutes (at 5 minute intervals) on the right in Arabic numerals.
Twice a year, at Epiphany (6 January) and on Ascension Day (the Thursday 40 days after Easter, counting both days) the three Magi, led by an angel with a trumpet, emerge from one of the doorways normally taken up by these numbers and pass in procession round the gallery, bowing to the Virgin and child, before disappearing through the other door. Below this is the great clock face in blue and gold inside a fixed circle of marble engraved with the 24 hours of the day in Roman numerals. A golden pointer with an image of the sun moves round this circle and indicates the hour of the day. Within the marble circle beneath the sun pointer are the signs of the zodiac [scorpion] in gold.’

Source: Wikipedia

Mary and the three Magi and the three Magi just before Mary’s worship
Torre dell'Orologio detail: Maria met kind Venetië


Torre dell’Orologio big size      Torre dell’Orologio: Canaletto       Luca Carlevarijs  
Torre dell'Orologio Venice



 “The moors” of the Torre dell’Orologio big size

On the south side, the square partly borders the Piazzetta which lies on the waters of the lagoon. Two granite columns are located on the shore. The winged lion of St. Mark is depicted on one column, the other one shows St. Theodore. In the past, executions took place here, and it is still believed to be bad luck to walk between the columns.

picture: mc0ca

After the extensive renovation of the Piazza, the construction of the library, the Zecca (mint) and the loggetta on the foot of the campanile were next. Since the square is located near the water of the lagoon, it is one of the first places of Venice that are flooded in times of acqua alta (high water). The danger of flooding has been imminent since the 13th century, which is why hundreds of years ago a drainage system was developed underneath the pavement to drain the water. Since the frequency of acqua alta has drastically increased over the past years, renovations to this system are being carried out for some time now, and people continue in search for a better solution. Until such a solution is found, the gangways to keep people from getting wet feet during times of acqua alta remain available.

Caspar Andriaans van Wittel two faces on the Piazzetta big size ca. 1700
Caspar Andriaans van Wittel ca 1700 piazzetta Venetië
Large size            Luca Carlevarijs
zicht op Piazzetta San Marco Venetië

Click here for continuation day 3