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
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn


Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment


film review
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
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.

    The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

    Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

    Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
    Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

    'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

    Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
    Compton Cricket Club

    Compton Cricket Club

    Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
    London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

    Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

    'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

    The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

    It helps a winner keep on winning
    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'