Palazzo Loredan Vendramin Calergi on the Grand Canal
The palace represents the most significant architectural epoch of Renaissance Venice.
It is mentioned by Sansovino in its “Venezia città nobilissima” of 1581, as being “among the most important of all the palaces on the Grand Canal”; it is described as having “great body and great height… very noble with regards not only to the layout of the rooms inside but also to the façade covered with Greek marble, with great windows all colonnaded in the Corinthian style…”
The construction of the palace was ordered by Andrea Loredan, who entrusted the project to the architect Mauro Codussi of Bergamo. Recent studies have demonstrated that it was built very quickly, between 1502 and 1509, when it would appear to have already been inhabited. There is no doubt that its size and formal refinement surpassed all contemporary constructions. The Istrian marble façade, with its double row of mullioned windows crowned with an arch enclosing a circle and divided into three by the harmonious scansion of its mullions, is a reflection of the distribution of the rooms inside, according to the typical scheme of the Venetian stately home. In fact, there are side rooms in line with the first and last windows, whereas the great hall for state receptions and for access to all the others is indicated by the three central windows.
During a Photo Tour sometimes we stop on the other side of the Grand Canal and, especially in the evening, you can get a very beautiful view of this palace, which is now the Venetian Casino.
Codussi died in 1504 and did not see his work completed, but he must have left detailed plans, because it was finished with such a coherence of composition (probably by his son Domenico, who also succeeded him in the completion of other works).
The history of the palace proceeded in step with that of its owner and those who inhabited it after him. Andrea Loredan was a personality of great prestige who had held important political positions. In 1513, during the war of Cambrai, he had to accept the role of quartermaster-general for the army, which had closed ranks near Vicenza. Being without an heir and almost guessing his destiny, he made a will to the effect that, apart from the usufructuary rights of his wife, the building was to be assigned to the son of a cousin, also named Andrea, with the obligation to keep it in good order, preserving all the works of art it contained and handing it down to his heirs according to the rights of primogeniture. Andrea Loredan died in battle in that same year in Creazzo. His heirs proved totally unworthy of the ideals of greatness and dignity of the Venetian nobility and in 1581 they obtained permission from the Council of Ten to sell off the Palace to the Duke of Brunswick for fifty thousands ducats.
More changes of hands took place, however, and two years later the palace was purchased by William III Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, who sold it again shortly afterwards to a rich merchant named Calergi, originally from Crete, whose family had opposed the Venetian Republic’s domination of the island for centuries and who, with the purchase of the palace, intended to establish his social position in the city on the same level as the Venetian nobility.
The merchant’s daughter and sole heiress, Marina, was married in 1608 to a nobleman, Vincenzo Grimani, who belonged to a family of ancient and well-rooted cultural traditions (which had, among other things, created a real museum of antique sculptures, transferred by Roberto Scamozzi to the Sansovinian Library towards the end of the 16th century). When we start a Photo Tour in Piazza San Marco, sometimes I notice that there is an open passage that leads behind the Sansovinian Library, where you can even now see some antique sculptures.
There were years of splendour for the palace, which received illustrious guests and was renovated inside and extended outside by Vincenzo Scamozzi with a new, so-called White Wing that faced onto the great garden along the bank of the Grand Canal.
Marina Grimani provided in her will for the integrity of the palace and for its preservation (for which she instituted a rich fund, establishing that the property was subject to primogeniture and that the heirs were to add the name Calergi to their own surname). Despite the noble lady’s precautions, however, the palace suffered considerable risks: in 1681, Marina’s heirs - who had a reputation for violence - assasinated their indomitable enemy Francesco Querini Stampalia inside the palace. The scandal was so great that the Senate ordered the perpetual banishment of the guilty parties, the confiscation of their goods and the destruction of their home. Because of its magnificence, the palace was actually only confiscated and its White Wing was razed to the ground. The Grimani Calergi succeeded in regaining possession of their goods, nonetheless, thank to the payment of considerable sums of money, and they rebuilt the Wing that had been demolished. In 1739, there being no heirs, the property passed into the hands of Nicolò Vendramin, who added the name Calergi to his own, giving the palace the name it still carries today.
The Vendramins decorated the interior with works of art from their own ancestral collections, including two jasper columns brought to Venice by Caterina Cornaro, Queen of Cyprus, and donated to her sister Cornelia, who had married Paolo Vendramin. It would seem that a good deal of the furnishings remained in place when Maria Carlina, Duchess of Berry, purchased the palace from the last of Vendramins in 1844. During the time when it was inhabited by the Duchess and her husband, Count Ettore Lucchesi-Palli, the palace was completely renovated by Giovan Battista Meduna and returned to a period of great pomp, was reopened for receptions and enriched with a number of paintings and even a theatre. Economic difficulties deriving from the changing political conditions led to the subsequent sale of the collections by Paris auction in 1865, and the palace passed to the Count of Chambord, the Duchess’son, who divided it into apartments, one of which, on the mezzanine floor, was the home of Richard Wagner for some years (where he composed the Parsifal). In 1926, Ca’ Vendramin Calergi passed from the heirs of the Count of Chambord to Count Giovanni Volpi of Misurata, who used the second floor for his research into electricity, leaving the residence on the first floor unchanged. Finally, in 1946, the palace was ceded to the Municipality of Venice and is now the winter residence of the Municipal Casino.