Venice has raised cultural overload to, well, an art form. In addition its renowned museums and the ethereal beauty of its architecture, every neighborhood church is likely to be graced with at least a couple of notable works by Renaissance masters.
The Treasures of the Dorsoduro
The Dorsoduro alone, my favorite place to stay in the Serenissima, is home to the Gallerie dell ’Accademia, 20-plus rooms overflowing with the works of the Venetian greats: Titan, Veronese, Tintoretto, Tiepolo, Canaletto, Carpaccio, Giorgione, the Bellini brothers (Gentile and Giovanni), et al. And a barely 5-minute walk south, the white façade of Corinthian columns topped by a triangular pediment of the Church of Santa Maria del Rosario (commonly known as I Gesuati) soars from the edge of the Giudecca Canal. The interior is a Tiepolo showpiece with majestic Rococo ceiling frescoes and a large, arched portrait of the Madonna with three Dominican female saints.
Then, another 10-minute walk east along the Zattere Promenade, taking in the fabulous view of the Giudecca Canal and the St. Mark Basin, leads to the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute. Inside, the Baroque landmark at the mouth of the Grand Canal is a Titian extravaganza, with for good measure on the high altar a 12th century Byzantine Madonna and Child brought from Greece in the 17th century after the fall of the city of Candia to the Ottomans.
After a few days of overindulging on majestic public buildings with bejeweled interiors brimming with Madonnas and martyrs, it’s time for a visit to Peggy.
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection
The Pallazo Vernier dei Leoni, for three decades the Grand Canal home of American heiress and legendary Honorary Venetian Peggy Guggenheim (1898-1979), is as unique as the woman herself and the impressive modern art collection she accumulated there.
What looks at first glance like a low-slung contemporary villa of white stone, stretched between the canal and a large leafy garden, turns out to be the first floor of an unfinished 18th century palazzo. Nobody knows what caused the Verniers, one of the oldest noble families in Venice, to abandon the construction. Nor is it known how the palace came to be associated with “leoni” (lions), although that is likely to be have come from the yawing lion’s heads of Istrian stone that decorate the façade at the water’s edge. What is clear, however, is that the palazzo is a uniquely intimate setting for the impressive collection that reflects Peggy Guggenheim’s passion for 20th century art.
She surrounded herself with major works ranging from Cubism to Surrealism to Abstract Expressionism. The greatest artists are represented, from Picasso, Braque, Leger and Brancusi to Ernst, Kandinsky, Magritte, Miró and Rothko Jason Pollock gets a whole room, Calder’s Arc of Petals the focal point of the central foyer. The grounds are an inviting sculpture garden with works from Giacommeti’s “Woman Walking” to Fritz Koenig’s “Chariot” and Germaine Richier’s “Tauromachy.”
From 1951 on she opened her house and collection to the public during the summer months, all the while adding to her collection over the next three decades. And in 1976, she bequeathed her Palazzo and art to her uncle’s Solomon Guggenheim Foundation. And there it remains today, the most welcoming of the great House Museums in Venice, a relaxed retreat from the crowds shuffling around the San Marco district right across the Grand Canal.
Another Dorsoduro House Museum not to be missed is Ca’ Rezzonic, located a few minutes away westward at the point where the Grand Canal is joined by the Rio di San Barnaba. The sumptuous white marble Baroque pallazo, originally commissioned in 1648 by one of the great patrician dynasties of the city, was another masterpiece interrupted when the family’s finances collapsed. A century later, ownership passed to the wealthy merchant and banker Giambattista Rezzonico. The completion in the Palazzo marked the pinnacle of the new owner’s upward social journey. In addition to completing the palazzo, Rezzonico commissioned frescoes for the ceiling of all the public rooms by noted artists, including Giambattista Tiepolo. The frescoes remain in place to this day, and are considered among some of the best-preserved in Venice.
By 1819, the family had died out, leaving only their palazzo to memorialize the Rezzonico name. The building passed through various owners until it was finally sold the Venice Town Council in 1935. Today, as the Museum of 18th century Venice, it is one of the gems of the city, displaying furnishings and art created for great palaces, thus offering visitors a glimpse into the life of the upper class in Venice’s Golden Age. The ballroom and state rooms are reached by a regal marble staircase, its balustrades decorated with statues by Giusto Le Court, the leading venetian sculptor of the late 17th century. There are Murano chandeliers, local scenes by Canaletto and Tintotetto hanging on the walls.And from the soaring façade windows, eye-popping views of the Grand Canal and the heart of Venice.
Good to Know
- Getting there – The Dorsoduro District is linked to the San Marco District by the Accademia Bridge across the Grand Canal. Another way to get across is the traghetto – If the ultimate Venitian tourist cliché otherwise known as a gondola ride is on your bucket list but you are put off by the extortionate rates, consider a taking a traghetto, the gondola service used by locals to cross the Grand Canal between its four widely spaced bridges. Traghetti usually run from 9:00 am to 6:00 pm at six crossing points. Rates are € 2 per crossing for non-residents. One of the stops is close the the Accademia Bridge.
- Visiting – Gallerie del Accademia, Campo Della Carità, 1050, 30123 Venice. Open Tuesday through Sunday from 8:15 am to 7:15 pm and Monday from 8:15 am to 2:00 pm. Santa Maria Del Rosario – Fondamenta Zattere Ai Gesuati, 30123, Venice. Open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, closed on Sunday. Santa Maria della Salute, Campo della Salute, Dorsoduro, 1, 30123 Venice, Open every day from 9:00 am until noon and 3:00 pm until 5:30 pm. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, 704 Dorsoduro, 30123, Venice. Open Wednesday through Monday from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Closed on Tuesday. Ca’ Rezzonico Dorsoduro 3136, 30123 Venice. Open Wednesday through Monday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm. Closed on Tuesday.