Palazzo Grimani

Palazzo Grimani.  A state museum since 1981, it is an extraordinary showcase for art, architecture and classical antiquities in Venice.

The original palace was purchased by Antonio Grimani, a Venetian doge, in the 16th century. His grandsons, Vettore and Giovanni Grimani, amassed an extensive collection of Graeco-Roman antiques, including sculptures, marbles, vases and bronzes. To display their treasures, the family between 1558-1568; transformed the palazzo into a magnificent structure, adorned with frescoes, stucco, and marble carvings. It also featured a large internal courtyard in a Roman style.

When Giovanni died, he donated the collection to the Venetian State, which became a founding nucleus of the National Archaeological Museum of Venice (part of the Marciana Library complex, in St Mark’s Square).

The palazzo was owned by the Grimani family until 1865 and later acquired by the Venetian State in 1981. Following a lengthy period of renovation, it finally opening as a museum in 2008; belonging to the Veneto Museum Pole.

Between May 2019 to May 2021, the Museum held an exceptional and important exhibition “Domus Grimani 1594 – 2019”.  By way of a short-term loan, the collection classical statues was reinstated back to the Palazzo Grimani; after more than four centuries.

The palazzo’s architecture and artistic treasures, remain a testament to the Grimani family’s significant impact on Venetian culture.


 

Location

The Palazzo Grimani, in the district of Castello, is located immediately south-east of the significant Campo Santa Maria Formosa; with its water-entrance at the intersection of the Rios, S.M. Formosa and San Severo.

The land entrance to the museum with its narrow facade, is accessed by way of the small Ruga Grimani; just off the Ruga Guiffa.

It is around a 15-minute walk, due north from the main San Zaccaria vaporetto stop or from St Mark’s Square. The large Campo Santa Maria Formosa with the church of the same name, is worth visiting and there are many fine palazzos to admire, as well as good cafe/restaurants.

Above. Narrow land entrance to the Museo di Palazzo Grimani 

Palazzo Grimani – History

The original L-shaped medieval building, was acquired as a family residence by Antonio Grimani, who at the great age of 87; ruled as doge between 1521 and 1523. His major contribution was to Venice’s stability, cultural richness and artistic legacy and a great supporter of the arts and of innovation.

Later, he donated the property to his grandsons Vettore Grimani, Procurator de Supra for the Republic of Venice and Giovanni Grimani, Patriarch of Aquileia (1501-93).

In 1558, when Vettorie died, Giovanni became the sole owner. He donated the collection of sculptures and gems to the Serenissima and after his death the first ones were placed in the anti-room of the Marciana Library. Today, they represent the founding nucleus of the National Archaeological Museum of Venice.

In the 16th C (around 1568) two new wings were added, which doubled the size and unusual for Venice a Roman-style inner courtyard was created; with loggias of marble colonnades. The goal was to create a Roman residence, to showcase the extraordinary Graeco-Roman sculpture collection of the family. Gathered from Venetian territories all over the Mediterranean, the sculptures demonstrated the epitome of classical beauty; that Renaissance humanists so admired and which the palazzo was designed to highlight. There is debate about who actually designed the building, however, it’s certain that Giovanni Grimani himself played a large role in the project.

Above. Roman-style inner courtyard, with loggias of marble colonnades.

To give the interior of the palazzo a classical feeling, Vettore and Giovanni decorated it with frescos and stucco work; a first for Venice. Rather than hiring Venetian artists, they used Mannerist artists from Rome and Central Italy; such as Giovanni da Udine (a Roman, considered among the brightest pupils of Raphael and Giorgione), Francesco Salviati, Camillo Mantovano, Francesco Menzocchi and Federico Zuccari. Hence, the palazzo combines both Tuscan and Roman elements.

The palazzo remained in the hands of the Santa Maria Formosa branch of the Grimani family until 1865; when the building passed hands through several owners and had suffered significant deterioration.

In 1981, it became a state property, having been acquired by the Superintendence for Architectural and Environmental Heritage of the city of Venice. After a lengthy restoration, it opened as a museum in December, 2008 belonging to the group: Veneto Museum Pole. Today, the second floor of the building also houses temporary exhibitions and cultural events.

 

Guide to the itinerary during the exhibition “Domus Grimani 1594-2019.

Please Note: I have retained  the itinerary notes of the exhibition, not only because of its importance and uniqueness; but also many photographs online of the interior of the Palazzo Grimani Museum; appear to have been taken during that period (especially of the Tribuna sculpture collection).

When Giovanni Grimani died in 1594, he donated these sculptures to the State and the collection was housed in the Marciana Library and forms a significant part of the National Archaelogical Museum of Venice. The loan (? 2-years) of the collection to the Museo di Palazzo Grimani, was made possible because of renovation work to the Marciana Library.

This itinerary describes the layout during the exhibition “Domus Grimani 1594-2019 – “the collection of around 130 classical sculptures re-assembled in its original setting after four centuries”; realised in collaboration with the Venetian Heritage Foundation and “Civita Tre Venezie”. The exhibition was configured as a real rearrangement of some rooms of the palace and in particular of the Tribuna.

The second floor of the building normally houses temporary exhibitions and other cultural events.

1. COURTYARD

The visit to the Palace and its collections, starts from the courtyard and follows an obligatory itinerary; in compliance with the signage.

The original palace, an ancient casa da stazio, was an L-shaped building. In the sixteenth century overall alterations were carried out over a period of thirty years at the expense of Vettore and Giovanni Grimani (and after Vettore’s death, only by Giovanni); two new wings were added to the building, doubling its size and gaining an inner courtyard in Roman-style, with loggias of marble colonnades, unusual in sixteenth-century Venice.

At the time the large space of the courtyard, with its asymmetrical porticoes laden with artfully arranged sculptures, relieves and inscriptions, would have been a stunning invitation to visit the rest of the collection and the pictorial wonders inside. The were entirely frescoed with plant motifs and completed by wonderful stucco baskets, that you can still admire today.

2. MONUMENTAL  STAIRCASE

Between 1563 and 1565, the vault of the monumental Staircase (below), which leads to the main portego, was richly ornamented with stuccoes and painted figures by Federico Zuccari. The subjects appeared to represent religious allegories – the painted decoration was completed with “grottesche” and floral arabesques; while the stuccoes represented various sea creatures, based on ancient gems and cameos in the family collection. Overall, the staircase would have competed for magnificence; only with the Scala d’oro of Palazzo Ducale and that of the Marciana Library.

Above. The vault of the monumental Staircase,  leads to the main portego, was richly ornamented with stuccoes and painted figures by Federico Zuccari.

3. ROOM OF THE FIREPLACE

This large room was frescoed in the 1560s, with the decorations composed of monochrome columns, of which only a few fragments have survived. A monumental fireplace in coloured marble and white stucco; dominates the space and is decorated in the Mannerist style. Niches and shelves housed other archaeological pieces from the Grimani collection.

4. CHAMBER OF APOLLO

Situated in what was the area of the medieval building, the chambers of Apollo, Callisto and Psyche were decorated between 1537 and 1540, by Mannerist artists. Entering the vault, reproduces a scheme from the ceiling of a Roman tomb showing the dispute between Apollo and Marsyas; as narrated in Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

The four frescoes are by Francesco Salviati from Florence. The stucco works are by Giovanni da Udine and so are the small figures of deities, the grotesques and the extraordinary birds. In the lunette on the back wall, an allegorical representation of Roman setting; refers to the origins and the glories of the Grimani Family.

5. ROOM OF THE DOGE ANTONIO, VESTIBULE AND CHAPEL

A sumptuous display of rare marbles set in stucco frames adorns these rooms, in a decorative style quite alien to Venetian culture; which belong to the final phase of the construction of the palace concluded by 1568.

In the room, the space was dominated by two walls, facing each other, treated with the same decorative motif. The chimneypiece wall was adorned with marble vases and portrait busts, including that of Antonio himself, unfortunately now lost.

The Chapel was used by Patriarch Giovanni Grimani, for private celebrations of the Mass. In the place of what was a splendid marble altar, now missing; stands the altarpiece with a Deposition by Giovanni Contarini, a pupil of Titian.

6. DINING ROOM

Camillo Mantovano, painted the ceiling of the Dining Room; decorated with fish and bird’s motifs. The 17th C painting in the centre of the ceiling, portraying St. John Baptizing the People, is derived from a painting by Nicolas Poussin, conserved at the Louvre and replaced the painting with the Four Elements attributed to Giorgione in a nineteenth-century guide. The oval shape is taken up again in the decoration of the pavement in “pastellone”, a characteristic type of crushed marble floor widely used in Venetian buildings, of which there are numerous examples in the palace.

7. NEOCLASSICAL ROOM

This room was refurbished at the end of the 18th C, celebrating in 1791, the wedding between the Roman princess Virginia Chigi and Giovanni Carlo Grimani. The decoration of the ceiling was executed by an artist from Verona, Giovanni Faccioli. The subject of the wedding was illustrated by the mural painting, which is a copy of the famous scene known as the “Aldobrandini Wedding”, a Roman fresco.

8. CHAMBER OF CALLISTO

The chamber dedicated to the nymph Callisto and her metamorphosis, is also related to the text by Ovid depicted in the Chamber of Apollo. The story is illustrated by five panels with gold background, starting from the first – on the wall opposite the windows.

Here, Giovanni da Udine rediscovered the technique of antique stucco, demonstrating his great skill in reproducing animals, still life scenes, as well as twelve putti. The latter symbolise the months of the year and are accompanied by four signs of the zodiac which refer to the four seasons. Round mirrors embedded in the stucco frames, embellish the composition and in accordance with the story narrated; recall the stars of the firmament.

9. CHAMBER OF PSYCHE

This room and the next once formed the Chamber of Psyche. It was divided into two separate rooms in the 19th C. In the original layout, which dates back to the1530s, the ceiling was decorated with five paintings dedicated to the story of Cupid and Psyche by Apuleius. The octagonal oil painting on the wall, is probably a copy of a painting by Francesco Salviati, dated 1539. It was once the centre of the pictorial composition and represents Psyche; worshipped as a goddess for her beauty.

10. PORTEGO AND DOMUS GRIMANI

The portego was the traditional main room of the Venetian house. This space most of all, recalls the medieval past of the building. Here, the portraits of the illustrious members of the family were housed in large stucco frames and the family used to hold banquets and performances of musical theatre; an art in which the Grimani were important patrons.

From here, started the itinerary of the exhibition “Domus Grimani 1594-2019 – “the collection of (around 130) classical sculptures re-assembled in its original setting after four centuries”; realised in collaboration with the Venetian Heritage Foundation and Civita Tre Venezie.

The exhibition was configured as a real rearrangement of some rooms of the palace and in particular of the Tribuna. (When Giovanni Grimani died in 1594, he donated these sculptures to La Serenissima, so, presumably; the collection has been returned to the Marciana Library and the National Archaeological Museum of Venice.)

Inspired by the Pantheon in Rome, the only light comes from the top where you can admire the ‘Abduction of Ganymede’ statue, hanging from the top of the vaulted ceiling.

11. FOLIAGE ROOM

The ceiling of the Sala ai Fogliami, painted in the early sixties of the sixteenth century by Camillo Mantovano, is covered with a spectacular decoration that celebrates nature, luxuriant with plants and flowers; a dense forest inhabited by numerous animals, frequently in predatory attitude and rich in symbolical meaning.

In the lunettes surmounted by grotesque, complex figurations in the form of a rebus, allude to a long and troubled heresy trial suffered by the patriarch Grimani; that marked his life by denying him access to the cardinal career. On the walls, there are two family portraits with Antonio Grimani (right) and Domenico and Marino Grimani (left). The room also displays precious boxes used to host collections of gems, coins and cameos; of which the Grimani were passionate collectors.

Above. Sala ai Fogliami, painted in the early sixties of the sixteenth century by Camillo Mantovano 

12. ANTITRIBUNA AND TRIBUNA

The Antitribuna, houses a valuable copy of a painting depicting the “Contest of the Attica between Athena and Poseidon”; made by Factum Foundation and located in the centre of the ceiling, as inspired by the Pantheon. The original painting created by Giuseppe Porta known as “Salviati”; is now preserved at the Jacquemart-André Museum in Paris.

From here you access the most important and significant place in the house, the real fulcrum and final destination of the itinerary along the rooms that precede it: the Tribuna. This environment, formerly known as Antiquarium, originally housed more than one hundred and thirty ancient sculptures, among the most valuable of the collection. Severe, solemn, lit by the light falling from the central lantern, the room had a vaulted ceiling decorated with lacunars and the walls displayed niches and shelves for housing statues and busts; following an ascending path that led to the Rape of Ganymede in the centre of the ceiling. The variety of architectural sources (Pantheon, Michelangelo’s architecture), suggests a direct involvement of Giovanni Grimani himself in the design.

Exhibition: “Domus Grimani 1594 – 2019”. Sala della Tribuna, displaying the sculpture collection in its original setting.

13. CAMARON D’ORO

The walls of this room, already known in the sixteenth century as the Camaron d’Oro (Large Gold Room), were entirely covered with gold tapestries featuring Biblical scenes. From the Giovanni Grimani collection, we can recognise the bust of Athena, the statue of Camillus and the head of Mercury (once assembled) and the sleeping Eros on the mighty sixteenth-century wooden table, with a series of precious bronzes. The plaster statue depicting the Laocoonte group, is a very rare eighteenth-century cast of the well-known sculpture of the first century BC, that aroused great interest in Cardinal Domenico Grimani. The group, found in Rome in 1506 at the Terme di Tito; is kept in the Vatican Museum.


 

Domus Grimani: The Collection of Classical Sculptures Reassembled in Its Original Setting after 400 Years Paperback – November 19, 2019 – by Toto Rossi (Editor), Daniele Ferrara (Editor)

The Palazzo Grimani in Venice is a 16th-century palace in the Mannerist style. The former residence of the patrician Grimani family, the building also housed the Grimanis’ vast collection of Greek and Roman antiquities until 1596, when the collection―comprising sculptures, vases, marbles and bronzes―was transferred to the Biblioteca Marciana in Venice. In 2019, the Biblioteca is undergoing major ceiling repairs, so the Grimani collection has been temporarily relocated to its original home.

Domus Grimani” offers an extensive and detailed photographic tour of the building and its original collection, displaying and explicating not only their selection of Greco-Roman art, but also the residence of a 16th-century noble family; for the exhibition, objects and furnishings belonging to the Grimanis have also been retrieved from public and private collections in order to recreate their home as faithfully as possible.

 


 

LINKS (internalexternal)

See my other posts in the category of  History and Architecture

Venice Museum Guide    An introductory post, featuring general information and links to all 25 of my posts, on the city’s most important museums.

Museo di Palazzo Grimani –  Ramo Grimani, Castello 4858 – 30122 Venezia

Reservations: +39 041 5200345    Museum: +39 041 241 15 07

E-mail:pm-ven.grimani@beniculturali.it      An economical combined ticket is available that includes access to Ca’ d’Oro.

Short You Tube Videos:

Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa, Venice (youtube.com)

Toto Bergamo Rossi (Venetian Heritage) about Palazzo Grimani (youtube.com)


 

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