Category: Insight Venice Sotheby's Realty (45)

Palazzo Fortuny is without doubt one of Venice’s finest and most fascinating museums, housed in an atmospheric gothic palace that once belonged to the legendary 19th century fashion and textile designer Mariano Fortuny.

This Spring the palace is hosting a highly thought-provoking exhibition that explores the concept and representation of ruins – objects suspended between past and present, life and death, destruction and creation – as an allegory of the inexorable passage of time.

Organised in collaboration with Russia’s State Hermitage Museum, the show features over 250 intriguing and incredibly eclectic art works and objects that illustrate the manifold meanings that have been attributed to ruins over the centuries.  Arranged by affinities and contrasts without geographical or sequential limits, the exhibits on view range from evocative sculptural artefacts from Greco-Roman, Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilisations to site-specific contemporary art works that investigate the “physical and moral ruins” in today’s society.


In between these chronological extremes is a series of masterpieces drawn from Venetian and international collections, including over 80 loans from the State Hermitage museum, by artists such as Albrecht Dürer, Paolo Veronese, Parmigianino, Ippolito Caffi and many more.  The show also features a number of exhibits relating directly to Venice – arguably one of the world’s most perfectly preserved yet precariously fragile cities – including a series of rare archival photographs of the fall and reconstruction of the bell tower in St Mark’s Square.

Today the concept of the ruin is especially pertinent, not least in light of recent historical events such as the collapse of the Twin Towers and the devastation of Palmyra, and the increasingly extreme threats of climate change.  However, far from simply proposing a gloomy image of decay and catastrophe, this powerful exhibition also looks resolutely towards the future, encouraging us to consider ruins as a source of new awareness – stimulating on the one hand the exercise of memory and reflection, and on the other, of planning for what may lie ahead.

FUTURUINS is on view at Palazzo Fortuny until 24th March 2019. 

Kick start your New Year with a healthy dose of culture at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which is currently hosting a retrospective dedicated to the intriguing Italian artist Osvaldo Licini.

Born in the Marche region in 1894, Licini has long been regarded as one of the most enigmatic and elusive Italian painters of the 20th century, whose career was characterized by moments of crisis and seemingly sudden stylistic changes.  This show aims to retrace his disruptive and tormented artistic path, and to shed new light on the fundamental coherence of his creative journey.


The exhibition begins with an early series of Licini’s figurative paintings from the 1920s, depicting the hilly landscape around the Marches – a subject to which he would return consistently throughout his career.  These same pastoral views also feature as the backdrop to his gradual transition from realism to abstraction during the 1930s – an experimental period in which he developed a highly original pictorial language that was both lyrical and acutely attentive to geometry, featuring colours and signs that he viewed as expressions of energy, willpower, ideas and magic.

The most iconic works in the show are the series of paintings depicting the female historical figure of Amalasuntha, which were presented as a group at the Venice Biennale in 1950, revealing the many facets of Licini’s personality, from the contemplative side to the more ironic and irreverent one.

Autoritratto, 1913

In the galleries dedicated to his later works, themes, styles, and unresolved thoughts on painting all converge, firmly asserting Licini as a great protagonist of Twentieth Century modernism – a position that was confirmed during his lifetime when he was awarded the Grand Prize for Painting at the Venice Biennale in 1958, just months before his death.  Staged to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of this prestigious recognition, this revelatory show is a fitting and long-overdue tribute to the great Italian master.

Osvaldo Licini. Let Sheer Folly Sweep Me Away is on view at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection until 14th January 2019. 

The beautiful Giudecca galleries of Casa dei Tre Oci are currently hosting an important retrospective dedicated to the legendary French photographer Willy Ronis (1910-2009).  Featuring 120 vintage images, as well as original archive documents and letters which have never been displayed before, it’s the most complete exhibition of his work ever to be staged in Italy, and one that has been received with great critical acclaim.

Ronis was born in Paris in 1910 to parents who owned a photographic studio in Montmartre, and it was here that his love of photography first developed.  Following his father’s death in 1936, he sold the studio and began working as a photojournalist – a profession he passionately pursued until 2001, when he could no longer walk.

The exhibition spans all eight decades of Ronis’ prolific career, beginning with his early work in the pre-WW2 years covering topical events such as the great protest marches of 14th July 1936 and the workers’ strike at the Quai de Javel Citroën factory in 1938.  A politically-committed man, and an active member of the Communist party, he continued to illustrate the social changes and struggles of his time throughout his life, ranging from industrial disputes to returning prisoners of war. Whether depicting picket lines and union militants or impoverished families and street workers, his sensitive, striking images demonstrate a true solidarity with the conditions and battles of the working-classes, and reveal an active commitment towards social outcasts.

Alongside his official assignments as a reporter, Ronis also enjoyed capturing the “slices of everyday life” of his family and friends, as well as strangers that he encountered on the street. Many of these captivating images are displayed in the exhibition, with subjects spanning Parisian lovers entwined on public benches to joyful children at the fairground.  Although most of these photographs depict French scenes, the exhibition also features a large number of works executed on Ronis’ international travels to countries such as the Netherlands, the USA and Italy – including a series of ten previously-unseen images of Venice, where he first visited in 1938 as a photographer on a cruise ship.

At the end of his career, still faithful to his commitments, Ronis decided to donate his work to the French state, thereby putting his images – including over 108,000 negatives and 9,000 slides – at the service of the community.  The photographs in this superb tribute exhibition are all drawn from the Médiathèque de l’Architecture e du Patrimoine collection that today houses his remarkable archive.

Willy Ronis. Photographs 1934-1998  is on view at the Casa dei Tre Oci until 6th January 2019. 

Lux Lumen – Murano glass chandeliers have been admired around the world since the 17th century. Their iconic design balances a decorative and aesthetic function with practical illumination, and they continue to fascinate and delight the world to this day.

When visiting Venice, you can find many beautiful examples of antique Murano glass chandeliers in palaces and museums around the city, such as Ca’ Rezzonico and Palazzo Querini Stampalia.  Traditional chandeliers are also still manufactured and sold through various glass furnaces on the island of Murano, closely following the designs of 17th century originals.

Lux Lumen
Lux Lumen

This summer, however, a bold and innovative new exhibition is being staged on the island of Murano, presenting cutting-edge, contemporary interpretations of the classic chandelier designed by 23 international artists ranging from Ai Weiwei to Lucio Bubacco, Zaha Hadid Design for Lasvit, Silvano Rubino and Fred Wilson.

The exhibition is being held in an atmospheric ex-furnace that is now owned by Fondazione Berengo, an organization that since 1989 has invited over 300 contemporary artists from all over the world to collaborate with its glass masters in creating extraordinary works of art in glass. The current exhibition, titled LUX-LUMEN, pays homage to the tradition and craftsmanship of the classic Murano glass chandelier, while also demonstrating pioneering new developments in lighting design for the 21st century.

LUX-LUMEN is on view at Fondazione Berengo, Campiello della Pescheria, 30141 Murano until 25th November 2018.  

Venice has been renowned for its glass for over 1000 years, so it may come as a surprise to some visitors to learn that there is in fact only one active glass furnace in the city: Orsoni. Centuries ago, there were lots of other furnaces in Venice – but in 1291, a decree was passed ordering all furnaces to move to the nearby island of Murano. This was partly to limit the risk of fires in the city, but also an attempt to contain and protect the secrets of Venetian glassmaking – one of the Republic’s most precious and profitable assets (for quite some time, any glass master who dared to leave the island with his trade secrets was punishable by death).

Founded in 1888 (significantly after the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797, when the furnace laws were no longer enforced), Orsoni is based in a quiet area of Cannaregio, near the Jewish Ghetto. It uses ancient techniques to produce 24K gold leaf mosaics, coloured gold and enamels in more than 3,500 colours – an archive of which is stored for reference in the furnace’s vast kaleidoscopic Colour Library.

colourful world orsoni
colourful world orsoni

Orsoni mosaics have been used in the decoration of some of the world’s most famous buildings. Clients and projects range from Gaudi’s Sagra Familia in Barcelona to the Saudi Royal Clock Tower in Mecca, Rudolf Nureyev’s tomb in Paris, St Paul’s Cathedral in London, the Vatican in Rome and the Basilica of San Marco in Venice; since 1888, the furnace has supplied enamels and gold for the ongoing restoration of cathedral’s 8,000 sq metre glittering domed ceiling and facade. They also work on numerous projects with contemporary interior designers, decorators and artists.

As a busy working furnace, Orsoni isn’t usually accessible to visitors.  However, they do open their doors for a public guided tour on the first and last Wednesday of each month: an unforgettable experience which offers a wealth of fascinating insights into the history and techniques of glass-making, and the story behind one of Venice’s most prestigious design brands.  Tickets can be booked online at

Glass lovers are in for an extra-special treat when visiting Venice this Spring, as the city is currently hosting a pioneering exhibition dedicated to Cirva – the International Centre for Research on Glass and the Plastic Arts, based in Marseille, France. The show is taking place across two of Venice’s principal cultural venues, LE STANZE DEL VETRO on San Giorgio Maggiore, and Fondazione Querini Stampalia.

Established in 1986, Cirva is a non-profit laboratory that hosts international artists, designers and architects wishing to introduce glass into their creative process.  The exhibition features 17 of these artists, all of whom have been in residence at Cirva over the past thirty years, including Pierre Charpin, Jana Sterbak, Robert Wilson and Terry Winters.

Before their residencies at Cirva, most of the artists had only occasionally come into contact with the glass world throughout their careers.  As a result, the works on view are highly original, surprising and unpredictable – representing the very “cutting edge” of contemporary glass art.

As the exhibition catalogue explains, “In the design of A Furnace in Marseille. Cirva [curators] Isabelle Reiher and Chiara Bertola have attempted to combine glass with the natural elements that characterise the environmental system of their cities: Venice and Marseille, both lapped by water, living in light, engaged in the re-imagining of glass, and never oblivious to sound. The exhibition therefore stems from the awareness that glass is not a material but a condition: a visual device that helps to identify something other than its pure form. It allows us to imagine the translation of an idea, to grasp the concretion of a vision’s inner energy, to touch the colour of a profound insight and to show the hardness of a solid that dissolves into brilliance. In this “frozen” landscape born from fire, light, reflections and transparencies are of course pivotal.”

“A Furnace in Marseille. Cirva – Centre international de recherche sur le verre et les arts plastiques is on view at Fondazione Querini Stampalia until 24th June 2018, and at LE STANZE DEL VETRO until 29th July 2018. 

Palazzo Ducale from the Grand Canal

A couple of weeks ago, Venice celebrated the opening of a new museum dedicated to Giacomo Casanova – one of the city’s most notorious sons, whose exploits as a lover, adventurer and escape-artist are still world-famous over 200 years after his death in 1798.  Featuring multi-media installations and stage-sets along with archival documents, period costumes, paintings and memorabilia, the museum offers a wealth of insights into Casanova’s intriguing life, loves and legacy.

However, for an even more authentic experience, why not also visit some of the many places around Venice that are directly linked to Casanova’s daily life in the city?

Calle Malipiero

Calle Malpiero: Start your itinerary in Calle Malpiero (a few steps from the San Samuele vaporetto stop), where a plaque marks the street where Casanova was born into a family of actors in 1725.  From 1740 onwards he also lived in nearby Palazzo Malipiero, owned by Alvise II Gasparo Malipiero – a senator who first introduced him into Venetian high society.  After being caught in a compromising position with one of Alvise’s mistresses, Casanova was later expelled from Venice.

Chiesa di San Samuele: A stone’s throw from Calle Malpiero, you’ll find the Chiesa di San Samuele, which played a large part in Casanova’s life.  His parents were married in the church, he was baptized here at 3 days old, and on Valentine’s Day 1740 – when he was just 14 – Casanova briefly joined the priesthood under the watchful eye of the parish priest, Father Tosello.

Caffe Florian: Tucked under the Procuratie Nuove in St Mark’s Square, Venice’s most iconic coffee shop first opened its doors on 29th December 1720.  Over the years it has welcomed innumerable famous guests including Wagner, Goethe, Lord Byron and also Casanova – who was no doubt attracted by the fact that Florian’s was the only Venetian coffee house at the time to admit women.

Palazzo Ducale: On the night of 25th July 1755, Casanova was arrested for affront to religion and common decency, and imprisoned in the “Leads” of the Doge’s Palace.  He remained here in what he described as “the worst of all cells”, suffering greatly from darkness, summer heat and “millions of fleas” until his infamous escape in 1756.  Today, you can visit the two cells that Casanova occupied, along with other hidden corners such as the Torture Chamber and Hall of the Inquisitors, by booking a place on the “Secret Itineraries” Tour.

Cafe Florian

Cantina Do’ Spade: Finish your itinerary with a well-earned aperitivo or meal at Cantina Do’ Spade – one of the oldest taverns in Venice – mentioned in Casanova’s memoirs as a spot that he used to frequent in the company of courtesans.   Hidden away in a shadowy alleyway near the Rialto Bridge, it was once at the very heart of Venice’s Red Light district – an area that Casanova knew only too well.

This month, visitors to Venice can discover the sinister side to the city’s history thanks to a major new exhibition titled “Venice Secrets. Crime and Justice”. The exhibition is set in Palazzo Zaguri, an important palace in Sestiere San Marco that re-opened last month after an ambitious two-year, five million euro restoration.

Staged across five floors and 25,000 square metres of the sprawling palazzo, the show leads visitors on a gory itinerary divided into four sections: “Justice and Torture”, “Prisons and Prisoners”, “The Capital Executions Rite” and “The Inquisition and Holy Office”.

Curated by a prestigious committee of historians, criminologists and experts from Venice’s State Archives, the exhibition features hundreds of original artefacts, death machines and torture instruments drawn from museums and private collections.  It also includes a number of plastinated cadavers and real human organs, displayed in a reconstructed anatomy theatre that testifies to the way in which bodies of people condemned to death were often used for anatomy studies in Venice and Padua.

Alongside these gruesome exhibits, the show includes over 60 original documents exhibited to the world for the very first time, recalling tales of Venetian crimes and penalties such as the case of Doge Francesco Foscari, the tragic end of Carmagnola, and the imprisonment of legendary lothario Giacomo Casanova.

Combining dramatic stage sets, historical costumes and interactive displays, the exhibition is a must-see for anyone interested in uncovering the shady secrets of Venice’s dark and mysterious past.

Venice Secrets. Crime & Justice” is on view at Palazzo Zaguri, Campo San Maurizio, until 1st May 2018.

Bust of Giambattista Tiepolo
Installation view of the Virgin in Glory at the Scuola Grande dei Carmini

Today we’re celebrating Giambattista Tiepolo, the most important fresco painter in Venice in the 18th century, who died on this day in 1770.  His theatrical decorative style, luminous palette and mastery of complex perspective earned him many commissions from the Venetian aristocracy and the Church.  Examples of Tipeolo’s work can be still found in numerous palaces, churches and scuole around the city. We’ve picked four of the top spots in Venice to admire his ravishing Rococo masterpieces:

Gallerie dell’Accademia:

The Discovery of the True Cross is one of the key highlights of the Accademia galleries, depicting the moment Saint Helen (the mother of Constantine the Great) discovered the True Cross on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. This grandiose tondo was originally the centerpiece of the ceiling of the Capuchin church in Castello; it’s a brilliant example of Tiepolo’s remarkable handling of illusionistic perspective. 

Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli:

The church of Santi Apostoli contains The Last Communion of Saint Lucy – the patron saint of blindness, whose eyes were cut out before her martyrdom.  In this intensely moving altarpiece, Tiepolo depicts Lucy kneeling before a priest to receive her last communion; in the foreground, a bloody knife and platter bearing a pair of gouged-out eyeballs foreshadow her impending martyrdom, while the heads of angels hover above her to announce her entry into the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Last Communion of Saint Lucy at the Chiesa dei Santi Apostoli

Ca’ Rezzonico:

This monumental palace, which now houses the Museum of 18th Century Venice, boasts some of Tiepolo’s finest paintings.  Highlights on the piano nobile include a splendid ceiling fresco allegorizing the marriage of Ludovico Rezzonico to Faustina Savorgnan.  Upstairs on the second floor, don’t miss the series of charming frescoes painted by Tiepolo’s son Gian Domenico, which once adorned the walls of the Tiepolo family villa in Zianigo.

Scuola Grande dei Carmini:

This beautiful scuola (confraternity) was the first to be formed by women in the 13th century, and it continued to extend hospitality to destitute travelers right through to the time of Napoleon’s occupation of Venice.  Ascend the sumptuous stuccoed staircase designed by Baldassare Longhena, and you’ll find a luminous first floor salone, crowned by nine superb ceiling paintings by Tiepolo.  The central work, depicting the Virgin in Glory with scenes from the legend of the English hermit Simon, is widely regarded as one of his greatest accomplishments.

The Palazzo Ducale is without doubt one of the top must-visit attractions in Venice; once the residence of the Doge and the seat of government, it’s a masterpiece of Gothic architecture, full of vast stately rooms, monumental staircases and ornate painted hallways that conjure up the former magnificence of the Venetian Republic.

But to really get to grips with the history of this remarkable building, we highly recommend booking a place on the “Doge’s Hidden Treasures” tour, which takes you far from the usual visitor route, and allows you to discover some of the most hidden corners of the Palace, rich with history, secrets and intrigue.

Led by one of the museum’s expert guides, you’ll start your tour with a brief introduction to the Palace in the main courtyard, before heading upstairs to the Loggiato – a sweeping terrace overlooking St Mark’s Square, where the Doge would have appeared before his people during public events. From here, you’ll continue to the Renaissance Loggia Foscara to discover a glittering collection of State Treasures conserved in the Palace coffers, before exploring a series of ornately decorated chambers that once served as the Doge’s Private Apartments.  Next, as you climb a steep staircase leading to his private chapel, you’ll encounter an extremely rare fresco depicting St Christopher, painted by the great Renaissance master Titian in 1523-4.

Finally, your visit will culminate with a chance to admire the exquisitely decorated Chiesetta and Antichiesetta, which have recently been restored to their former glory following a lengthy conservation campaign.  Here, along with a series of beautiful trompe-l’oeil murals, you’ll find a sublime statue of the Virgin and Child by Jacopo Sansovino, as well as the original models that Sebastiano Ricci used for the second arch of the Basilica di San Marco, depicting The Translation of the Body of St Mark.

Places on the daily tours are limited and often get booked up far in advance, so be sure to plan ahead to avoid disappointment.