Indulge in a real aesthetic hunt of the beautiful Venetian Gothic style
(image by Wolfgang Moroder, WikiCommons)
The Giustinian Palace is located in the Dorsoduro sestiere, having access from the ground in Campiello Dei Squellini near St. Barnaba and overlooking the Grand Canal next to Ca’ Foscari; like the latter, it is among the best expressions of late Venetian Gothic.
It is a unitary building, formed by two twin buildings: the palace on the right, which houses rooms of the “Ca’ Foscari” University, is known as “Ca’ Giustinian Dei Vescovi,” named after the branch of that family that lived there; the other, owned by the noble Friulian family Brandolini D’Adda, as “Ca’ Giustinian Dalle Zogie” (jewels).
The twin buildings were built in the mid-15th century, commissioned by the prestigious and very old Giustinian family. From the beginning, they were intended for the two branches of the family, and only after some time were they united and harmonised through the central part of the facade.
A significant renovation was taken care of by Giuseppe Darù, owner of the palace near Ca’ Foscari.
The two palaces were sold in the 19th century. Later, the painter Natale Schiavoni, who installed a valuable art collection there, and the composer Richard Wagner, who composed the second act of Tristan and Isolde there between 1858 and 1859, lived there. The latter stayed in the palace for seven months: this was the first of his Venetian trips.
Also during this period, the rear garden was enriched with a dense artificial grove, one of the largest among those in Venice.
The palace hosted other distinguished guests, such as the American novelist William Dean Howells, who was consul in Venice from 1861 to 1865 and, in 1866, published Venetian life in memory of his experiences in the city. The Hungarian violinist Franz von Vecsey also resided there from 1925 to 1935.
The two palaces are developed with an L-shaped plan on four floors, sharing with Ca’ Foscari many decorative elements of the facade. The lack of compactness in the façade, which is not unique but the fusion of two, is due to the plan of the building itself. The central axis on the ground floor is no longer something purely geometric, but becomes the third water portal, the central one, giving access to the calle behind, which separates the two building bodies and their respective courtyards.
Each of the two buildings has central polyphores to illuminate the “portegos” (main reception halls): the first and last main floors have simple quadriphoras, while the main main main floor, the second, is decorated with an off-centre hexafora distinguished by the very famous interlaced arch motif with quadrilobo. More properly, the hexaforas are not off-centre, but rather arranged symmetrically with respect to another axis drawn by the center portal. The single-light windows surrounding the central polyphores are ogive or trefoil arched, with apical flowers; two single-light windows on the second floor, which are wider, have elaborate tracery with hanging capitals. Of extraordinary merit are the capitals with cherub heads. The corners are decorated with a sawtooth motif made of Istrian stone. The purpose of this frame seems precisely to give compactness to the structure.
As for the plan, this seems to have been determined by precise logistical and building reasons related to the lot, the boundaries and the personal needs of the two households that could be housed there. In particular, it was necessary to build two courtyards, two staircases and two entrances. The courtyards feature battlements imitating medieval ones. Each of the two building bodies has not just one courtyard but two, as each has a central one and a larger garden at the back. The latter two are very different: Giustinian Dei Vescovi Palace has a courtyard at the back surrounded by Lombardesque columns with Ionic capitals, characterised by a Gothic staircase; while Ca’ Giustinian Dalle Zogie also has a large garden with puteal. Back in the days, there were two staircases, both of which were enclosed as loggias.
The bishops’ palace’s interior is characterised by a large porch decorated with stuccoes, with plafoni made by Giovan Battista Cedini and a frieze representing the faces of various artists. On the other hand, the porch of the southern body features coats of arms of the former owner’s family, with gilded frames.