Venetian noble palaces
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  • Venice

A route aimed at discovering the wonderful Venetian stately palaces located on the banks of the city's magical canals

Cà d’oro
(by Didier Descouens, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

(by Didier Descouens, CC BY-SA 4.0 Wikimedia Commons)

The Ca’ d’Oro is a well-known palace in Venice, located in the Cannaregio district and overlooking the Grand Canal. Its name derives from the fact that originally some parts of the facade were covered in gold, a finish that was part of a complex polychromy, now disappeared, believed to be one of the finest examples of Venetian flamboyant Gothic.

The history of this building finds its origins in Marino Contarini, a personality belonging to a wealthy family of doges (Head of State of the Venetian Republic), although more a skilled merchant than a politician. 

For the construction of this palace, he negotiated for years with Lombard and Venetian craftsmen, so much so that some claim that Marino Contarini is responsible for the final physiognomy of the palace. Two different workshops worked at the Venetian construction site at the same time, whose imprint is recognisable in the variety of decorative apparatuses: the one headed by Matteo Raverti, in which workers from the Como area were active, and the one run by Giovanni Bono and his son Bartolomeo, composed almost exclusively of Venetian workers. A well-known French painter who lived in Venice for a long time, Zuanne de Franza, also worked on the Ca’ d’Oro building site; in 1431, he was commissioned to reinforce the marbles and stones with colour and to emphasise each element with gold, red, blue, and black. Unfortunately, nothing remains of his work today, obliterated by the wear and tear of time or restoration.

Once completed, the palace remained in the ownership of the Contarini family for just two generations, after which it underwent numerous changes of owners, who made multiple remakes of the interior subdivisions and various other remodels.

At the end of the 19th century, the house became the property of Baron Giorgio Franchetti, following a considerable outlay of 170,000 lire. The baron wanted to undertake a careful philological restoration of the building, attempting to bring it as close as possible to its 15th-century morphology. However, in 1916, Franchetti agreed with the Italian state in which he undertook to hand over the palace upon completion of the work in exchange for their financial coverage. The baron also had some works of art belonging to his collection placed inside; it was, in fact, in his will that the building would become a museum, losing its function as a civilian home. After his death in 1922, restoration work was then completed, and on January 18, 1927, the Gallery named after him was inaugurated.

The architecture of the Ca’ d’Oro is characterised by its asymmetrical facade: on the left side, three pierced bands (portico for boat docking on the ground floor and loggias on the upper floors) are superimposed, while on the right side, masonry clad in fine marble with individual isolated square openings prevails. The cause of this specificity is attributable to the small size of the lot, which did not allow the construction of the left wing of the building.

In addition to this specificity, there are many other highly atypical elements. The entrance on the ground floor is open with five large arches over the water, with the central one dilated in relation to the others, so much so that it is low-arched, echoing porticoes of Byzantine origin. The two “hexaforas” (six-arched windows) on the upper floors are a novelty for the period. The capitals of the columns with fat leaves rising in a spiral are reinterpreted in a novel way, breaking the classic coeval Venetian symmetry. Even the railings between the columns have a distinct decorative spirit.

The museum that can still be visited today houses works of art collected by Giorgio Franchetti during his lifetime. Following his donation to the Italian state in 1916 and with a view to the museum’s construction, the Franchetti collection was also joined by a number of state collections from which most of the bronzes and sculptures on display come, along with numerous Venetian and Flemish paintings.

These Venetian ‘Ca’ are today a precious heritage of the Venetian lagoon and a prestigious example of the maritime power that dominated the Mediterranean Sea.


1. Palazzo Grassi

2. Ca’ Rezzonico

3. Palazzetto Stern

4. Palazzo Fortuny (Ca’ Pesaro)

5. Cà Loredan

6. Cà d’oro