A route aimed at discovering the wonderful Venetian stately palaces located on the banks of the city's magical canals
(by Didier Descouens, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)
Palazzo Grassi overlooks the Grand Canal in the “Sestiere” (one of the six zones into which Venice is divided) of San Marco. The sestiere of San Marco, originally called “Rivoalto”, hence also the name “Rialto”, is the original core of the city. It is one of the best-known lagoon buildings because, in addition to being the site of art exhibitions worthy of particular interest, it is known as the last patrician palace overlooking the Grand Canal before the collapse of the Serenissima Republic of Venice.
The palace stands on a trapezoidal-shaped plot of land purchased in several stages by the Grassi family. The precise circumstances of the construction of Palazzo Grassi are unknown; however, it is assumed that work began in 1748 CE, thanks to a document that reports excavation work to prepare foundations in the area. Completion work on the palace is also thought to date back to 1772, the year of Paolo Grassi’s death.
From 1840, due to the rapid and complete extinction of the Grassi family, the palace underwent a sudden succession of sales that led it to have as many as five different owners within its walls. In 1949 the court passed to a real estate company belonging to the Italian multinational Snia Viscosa, of which Franco Marinotti, one of the most influential Italian industrialists of the period and founder of the town of Torviscosa, was the majority shareholder. Such was his belief that no entrepreneur could be complete unless motivated by a strong passion for art and culture that he founded, financed and managed the International Center of Art and Costume there. For this purpose, he made some changes to the palace: covering the courtyard with a stained-glass window, replacing the old floor with inlaid marble, and replacing the garden with an open-air theatre with an opening roof, aimed at hosting receptions and fashion and costume shows, conferences and art exhibitions. However, in 1978 the property’s interest in promoting and supporting exhibition activities ceased, hence the decision to sell the palace.
In 1983 Fiat decided to purchase Palazzo Grassi and entrust its renovation work to the architect Gae Aulenti. The latter chose to include all kinds of technical facilities in the various rooms of the structure. In 2005, the French entrepreneur François Pinault decided to buy Palazzo Grassi with the intention of displaying inside the private collection of contemporary and modern works of art he owned. To this end, he entrusted Japanese architect Tadao Andō with renovating and remodelling the structure. Throughout his work, the architect immediately decided to keep intact the architectural landmarks of the structure, thus ensuring the principle of reversibility.
Today’s building is characterised by its two large facades, the front one facing the Grand Canal and the side facing Campo San Samuele. The style is imposing but, at the same time, extremely elegant. It denotes the Grassi family’s desire to be publicly recognised as powerful, influential and rich, therefore, representing a sort of status symbol.
In clear neoclassical style, the main facade conceals a very complex and scenic floor plan inspired more by the Roman than the Venetian model. In the centre, a collonaded courtyard divides the structure into two blocks: the front houses four side rooms and a central hall, while the rear houses smaller rooms and a sumptuous staircase. The main front is clad entirely in Istrian stone and respects the traditional tripartite arrangement; the windows have a linear, classically inspired appearance. Holes differ in decoration: those on the second floor are round-headed, while those on the second have gables that are sometimes curvilinear, sometimes triangular. The windows are separated by pilasters (false vertical columns with decorative function) smooth culminating in Ionic or Corinthian capitals.
Currently, the palace still houses the private collection of François Pinault, one of the world’s five largest collections of modern and contemporary art. It essentially consists of paintings, sculptures, photographs and videos belonging to the art movements of Arte Povera, Minimalism, Post-Minimalism and Pop Art.
This is composed of works by some of the most internationally important artists, among them are: Andy Warhol, Maurizio Cattelan, Pierre Huyghe, Lucio Fontana, Mark Rothko, and Jeff Koons.