Ca' d'Oro, correctly called Palazzo Santa Sofia, is one of the oldest, most beautiful palaces, and a great showpiece of the Grand Canal in Venice. It is known as Ca' d'Oro, meaning golden house, due to the gilt and polychrome external decorations which once adorned its walls. It is the finest example of Venetian Gothic architecture in the city. The façade, with its finely carved windows, oriental pinnacles and exotic marble, has an unmistakable flavour of the East.
However, this once magnificent palazzo has suffered many changes of fortune and there is now little inside of what was once a 15th century palace. Since 1984, it has been home to the Giorgio Franchetti Collection.
History of the Ca’ d’Oro
The Palazzo was built between 1428 and 1430 for the Contarini family, who provided Venice with eight Doges between 1043 and 1676. In 1420, the wealthy patrician, Marino Contarini, commissioned the building of what he was determined would be the most magnificent palace in the city. Giovanni Bon and his son Bartolomeo Bon were the architects of the Ca' d'Oro. The principal façade of Ca' d'Oro facing onto the Grand Canal is built in the Bon's Venetian floral gothic style. The decoration and the intricate carving were executed by Venetian craftsmen, and Contarini had the façade adorned in ultramarine and gold leaf. On the Ca' d'Oro's ground floor, a recessed colonnaded loggia gives access to the entrance hall (portego de mezo) directly from the canal. Above this colonnade is the enclosed balcony of the principal salon on the piano Nobile.
Over the course of the 16th century, and following the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, the palazzo changed ownership several times. The house was remodelled by a succession of owners and by the early 18th century, was partially destroyed. In 1846 the Russian Prince Troubetzkoy bought it for the famous ballerina Maria Taglioni. Under her direction, the Ca’ d’Oro suffered barbaric restoration. The open staircase was ripped out, the wellhead by Bartholomeo Bon was sold and much of the stonework removed. She also removed the Gothic stairway from the inner courtyard and destroyed the ornate balconies overlooking the courtyard.
It was finally rescued by its last owner, Baron Giorgio Franchetti, a patron of the arts who had acquired it in 1894 and restored it to its former glory. Then in 1922, the palazzo was bequeathed to the State by Franchetti.
Following an extensive restoration program to the façade, including the reconstruction of the stairway which was installed in the 1970s, it is now finally complete and open to the public as a gallery. The pretty paved courtyard contains Bon’s beautifully carved wellhead, one of the pieces retrieved by Franchetti.
The gallery is home to Franchetti’s entire collection and has gathered more works over time. Among the many beautiful works is 'Venus' by Titian, the 'Annunciation of Carpaccio' and 'Mantegna's San Sebastiano'. The gallery also houses works of art by Flemish and Dutch painters, as well as some works by Tintoretto, Giorgione and Paris Bordone.
Due to the delicacy of its polychrome marbles, Ca’ d’Oro shows the damage from local acid pollution more than most other monuments. See the movie
Cannaregio n.3932, 30121 Venice