Aboard a painted palace : TRAVEL : CULTURE VULTURES

Venice's least visited art collection is just a gondola ride down the G rand Canal. Michael Jacobs unveils the unsuspected glories of the Ca' Rezzonico

BEING buffeted by waves from passing motorboats and vaporetti gives added drama to the journey by public gondola from San Samuele to San Barnaba in Venice. Surprisingly little used by tourists, this curious ferry service enables you to enjoy a gondola ride that is both cheap and unostentatious. It also provides a particularly exciting approach to the least visited of Venice's major art collections - situated not in some quiet backwater of the city, but in one of the most prominent and spectacular palaces on the Grand Canal.

The Museo del Settecente Venez-iano (Museum of the Venetian 18th Century), with its theatrical and richly modelled facade, was begun in 1667 by the great baroque architect Baldassare Longhena. In the mid-18th century it was given an interior of breathtaking sumptuousness by the palace's new and showy owners - the Rezzonicos, one of whom became Pope Clement XIII in 1758. It is this family connection that gave the museum the name by which it is more usually known, the Ca' Rezzonico (Rezzonico House).

Sold off after the fall of the Venetian Republic, the palace briefly belonged to Robert Browning's son; the poet himself caught a cold and died there in 1889. In 1933 the municipality of Venice unwittingly hastened the by now empty building's decline into obscurity, by turning it into a "Museum of the Venetian 18th Century" and placing here the relevant holdings from the Museo Correr.

Part of the blame for this museum's astonishing neglect must lie indirectly with John Ruskin, who encouraged the still widely prevalent notion that Venice went into a moral decline after the Renaissance and thereafter produced works of art of increasing flippancy and emotional dishonesty.

The Ca' Rezzonico, with its extensive original decorations and stupendous views over the Grand Canal, offers an opportunity not only to view this art in the most beautiful and appropriate setting possible, but also to reassess its remarkable range and power.

Among the museum's more gentle surprises are small panel paintings by Pietro Longhi, whose portrayals of the Venetian middle class have often been compared with the plays of his friend Carlo Goldoni. Prevented by the strict censorship of the time from satirising his subjects, he adopted a matter-of-fact naturalism even when painting so extraordinary a subject as a group of carnival revellers witnessing, in 1751, the first public display of a rhinoceros in Europe since the Renaissance.

Genre scenes such as these held much less interest for 18th-century tourists than did detailed topographical views of the city. The one Venetian artist who has been consistently admired by the British is Canaletto. So many of his works ended up in Britain that the only ones that can be seen today in a Venetian public collection are two fine early views recently acquired by the Ca' Rezzonico.

But the artistic greatness of 18th-century Venice rests above all on its painted decorations; and it is these that make a visit to this museum such a special experience. No other palace in Venice open to the public has frescoed ceilings by Giambattista

Tiepolo - the most famous frescoist of the 18th century. His virtuosity was such as to glorify convincingly in paint the dynastic ambitions of his unworthy patrons. Equally astonishing are GB Crosato's magnificently ornamental frescoes covering the palace's enormous ballroom. Their sensual effect is brilliantly enhanced by huge gilded mirrors and the rippling reflections from the Grand Canal.

In complete contrast to all this pal-atial splendour are the frescoes that once decorated Tiepolo's modest family villa near Mira, which have been reassembled in an intimate suite of rooms. Largely executed by Tiepolo's son, Giandomenico, these works were intended to entertain rather than impress; they even have clowns dangling above the spectator.

The visitor returns to the world of propaganda in what is perhaps the museum's most memorable work. Painted originally for the salon of the Palazzo Pisani, this is a late canvas of vast proportions by Giambattista Piazzetta - his dark, dramatically lit and laboriously executed works could hardly be more different from the effortless, serene, pastel-coloured creations of the mature Tiepolo.

This particular painting illustrates the munificence of Alexander the Great, with whom so many Venetian patrons liked to identify: Alexander is shown here removing his cloak to cover up the ignobly exposed corpse of his enemy Darius. But where other Venetian artists, such as Veronese and Tiepolo, would have emphasised the splendour of Alexander's gesture, Piazzetta concentrated instead on the humble state of the defeated Persian emperor in death. Few other works offer so powerful a corrective to the popular image of 18th-century Venice as a shallow and frivolous city.

GETTING TO VENICE: Italy Sky Shuttle (081-748 1333) offers flights to Venice from Gatwick for £144 return until 22 February. Lupus Travel (071-306 3000) provides flights from Manchester to Venice for £154 return. City breaks to Venice are widely available. Italiatour (071-371 1114) provides two nights in a two-star hotel for £263 after 26 February. During the Venice Carnival (14-26 February) the cost rises to £343. Prices will be higher and rooms more difficult to obtain during this period. The Magic ofItaly (081-748 2661) offers three nights in a two-star hotel for £242 from Gatwick until 23 February. Departing from Manchester requires a £20 flight supplement.

GETTING TO THE MUSEUM: Ca' Rezzonico is at Canal Grande, Dorso-duro (tel: 041-24543). Take the No 1 boat (the Accelerato), which follows the whole length of the Grand Canal and stops directly outside the palace. Alter-natively, take the much faster No 2 (the Diretto) from the Piazzale Roma to San Samuel, and from there proceed by public gondola (traghetto) to San Bar-naba. Ca' Rezzonico is open Monday-Thursday and Saturday, 10am-4pm; Sunday, 9am-noon; closed Friday. !

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father

Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer

Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
TVDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Arts and Entertainment
J Jefferson Farjeon at home in 1953
booksBooksellers say readers are turning away from modern thrillers and back to golden age of crime writing
Arts and Entertainment
Female fans want more explicit male sex in Game of Thrones, George R R Martin says

film George RR Martin owns a cinema in Santa Fe

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Clued up: John Lynch and Gillian Anderson in ‘The Fall’

TV review

Arts and Entertainment
The Baker (James Corden) struggles with Lilla Crawford’s Little Red Riding Hood

film...all the better to bamboozle us
Arts and Entertainment
English: Romantic Landscape

Arts and Entertainment
Laugh a minute: Steph Parker with Nigel Farage

Arts and Entertainment
Comic Ivor Dembina has staged his ‘Traditional Jewish Xmas Eve Show’ for the past 20 years; the JNF UK charity is linked to the Jewish National Fund, set up to fund Jewish people buying land in Palestinian territories

Arts and Entertainment
Transformers: Age of Extinction was the most searched for movie in the UK in 2014

Arts and Entertainment
Mark Ronson has had two UK number two singles but never a number one...yet

Arts and Entertainment
Clara Amfo will take over from Jameela Jamil on 25 January

Arts and Entertainment
This is New England: Ken Cheeseman, Ann Dowd, Frances McDormand and Richard Jenkins in Olive Kitteridge

The most magnificently miserable show on television in a long timeTV
Arts and Entertainment
Andrea Faustini looks triumphant after hearing he has not made it through to Sunday's live final

Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

    Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
    Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

    Scarred by the bell

    The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

    Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
    Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

    Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

    Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
    The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

    The Locked Room Mysteries

    As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
    Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

    How I made myself Keane

    Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
    Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

    Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

    Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
    A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

    Wear in review

    A look back at fashion in 2014
    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

    Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

    Might just one of them happen?
    War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

    The West needs more than a White Knight

    Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
    Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

    'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

    Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

    Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
    The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

    The stories that defined 2014

    From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
    Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

    Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

    Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?