Category: Insight Venice Sotheby's Realty (45)

One of the best aspects of the Venice Biennale is that for its six month duration, many of the city’s secret places – private palaces, deconsecrated churches, hidden gardens and more – are opened up to the public, hosting a vast array of contemporary art exhibitions. Amongst our favourites is the thought-provoking exhibition by Belgian artist Jan Fabre, which is housed in the tranquil cloisters and chambers of the Abbey of San Gregorio, next to church of the Madonna della Salute.

An official collateral event of the Biennale, the show features a body of work spanning 40 years of the artist’s career from 1977 to 2017, depicting skulls, animals and other forms made exclusively from glass and bone. Fascinated with the alchemy and memory of matter, Fabre pays homage in these delicate sculptures to both the pictorial tradition of Flemish masters, who used to grind bone powder into their colour pigments, and to the artistic craftsmanship of Venetian glassmakers.  By using these two hard yet fragile materials, he draws attention to the hardness and fragility of life itself; like glass, bones can shatter, testifying to the precariousness of human existence and prompting a philosophical, spiritual and political reflection of life and death.

Scuola Grande di San Rocco

During the time of the Republic, Venice possessed seven “Scuole Grande” or Great Schools” – wealthy religious confraternities run by lay officials, that were involved in charitable activities such as the distribution of money to the poor and the supervision of hospitals. Housed in monumental buildings designed by celebrated architects and decorated with sumptuous works of art, they’re amongst Venice’s most historically significant and artistically rich buildings; be sure to add them to your Venetian to-do list!   We’ve picked three of our favourites:

Scuola Grande di San Marco: Founded in 1260 as the site of the St Mark’s brotherhood, the Scuola Grande di San Marco now forms part of Venice’s public hospital.  As well as admiring Pietro Lombardo’s magnificent marble façade and the hospital’s impressive columned entrance hall, you can now visit the recently opened Sala Capitolare on second floor, which houses the Museum of the History of Medicine, along with a beautiful altarpiece by Sansovino.

Scuola Grande di San Rocco: Dedicated to Saint Roche – patron saint of plague-victims – the Scuola Grande di San Rocco was the richest scuola in Venice, and its wealth is reflected by its vast size and sumptuous decorations.   The interior is one of the most impressive in the city, dominated by a vast suite of paintings that the great Venetian artist Jacopo Tintoretto worked on for over twenty years, including his masterpiece, the Crucifixion.  Keep an eye out for posters advertising evening concerts that are often held in the opulent first floor Sala Grande Superiore.

Scuola Grande San Giovanni Evangelista: Situated in the district of San Polo, this scuola at one stage served as a social club for the Council of Ten, Venice’s dreaded secret service. As well as being a seat of political power, it was also home to one of the city’s most previous religious relics – a piece of the True Cross – which formed the basis for a number of important artistic commissions by painters including Titian, Bellini and Carpaccio.  Whilst the majority of these works have since been removed to the Gallerie dell’Accademia, the scuola is still well worth a visit, with paintings by Palma II Giovane, Pietro Longhi and Tintoretto, a monumental staircase designed by Codussi, and a soaring first floor hall decorated by Giandomenico Tiepolo.

Founded over 500 years ago, the Venetian Ghetto is the oldest ghetto in the world, with a rich cultural heritage that makes it one of the city’s most intriguing places to visit.

In medieval times this cluster of small islands in Cannaregio housed a getto (iron foundry), but in 1516 it was designated by the Republic of Venice as the city’s Jewish quarter, where all Jews were confined to live – under harsh conditions – until the arrival of Napoleon in 1797.

Surrounded by canals, at night the Ghetto was sealed by gates guarded by Christian watchmen; by day Jews were obliged to wear distinctively coloured badges or caps, and were restricted to a limited range of professions including medicine and money lending.  In spite of these tough regulations, Venice was regarded as relatively liberal in its attitude towards the Jewish faith – and over the centuries that followed, the Ghetto became a haven for vast numbers of Jews being expelled from other countries around Europe.   At its peak in the seventeenth century, the population swelled to over 5000 – resulting in chronic over-crowing.

Nowadays the area is home to only a small Jewish population, but the Ghetto is full of traces of its historic past – from the marks left by the gates in the Sottoportego Ghetto Nuovo, to the sign for the old money-lending shop “Banco Rosso”, and the harrowing memorial to the 246 Jews who were arrested and sent to concentration camps between 1943 and 1944 during World War 2.  For an excellent, thorough introduction to the area’s history, we recommend taking a guided tour of the recently renovated Jewish Museum, which includes a visit to a number of the Ghetto’s synagogues.  Alternatively, consider visiting the islands by night, when they’re at their most peaceful and atmospheric.

Selection of Fortuny fabrics
Selection of Venetia Stadium fabrics

Originally situated at the Western end of the Silk Route, Venice has long been famed for its beautiful textiles – ranging from delicate damasks to fine silks and plush velvets.  Today the city continues to produce and sell some of the world’s most coveted fabrics, which you’ll find adorning the interiors of many of our own properties.  We’ve selected a few of our favourite design brands:

Fortuny: Famous around the globe for their iridescent, water-like shimmer and delicate hand-printed motifs, Fortuny fabrics have been made in Venice since 1907.  Although the Giudecca factory remains strictly closed to the public (Mariano Fortuny’s original techniques are closely guarded trade secrets), you can certainly visit the showroom next door, where many of the splendid textiles are available for sale. Fortuny, Giudecca 805

 Chiarastella Cattana: This chic boutique – set in an original 17th century Craft Guild near Palazzo Grassi – is a go-to for exquisite, limited edition fabrics woven on traditional looms with stylish contemporary patterns and eye-catching motifs.  Available to order by the metre, Chiarastella’s designs are also made up into tablecloths, bed linens, towels and cushions – elegantly displayed alongside a curated selection of glassware by designers such as Marie-Rose Kahane and Domitlla Harding. Chiarastella Cattana, Salizzada San Samuele 3216

Rubelli: With a stunning showroom at Palazzo Corner Spinelli overlooking the Grand Canal, Rubelli has been based in Venice for over 300 years.  Particularly renowned for their signature brocades (woven on historic hand looms as originally designed by Leonardo da Vinci), Rubelli also offers an extensive array of contemporary textiles that combine innovative designs with the finest quality fabrics. Rubelli, Palazzo Corner Spinelli, San Marco 3877

Venetia Studium: With lavishly decorated emporiums in San Marco and Dorsoduro, Venetia Studium offers a sumptuous selection of ornately decorated fabrics, luxurious home furnishings, and bohemian clothing accessories.  Our top pick would be one of their fabulous lamps,, designed by Mariano Fortuny himself and guaranteed to add a touch of glamour to any interior, whether in Venice or beyond. Venetia Studium, Dorsoduro 180/a or San Marco 2425

October 2017

Salomé scene photography. Tour of South America, 1909-1910. Private collection

A fascinating new exhibition at Palazzo Cini is currently shining a spotlight on the life and legacy of Lyda Borelli (1887-1957) – one of Italy’s greatest actresses of all time, and a pioneering icon of Art Nouveau style.

Borelli was the first wife of Count Vittorio Cini, founder of the Giorgio Cini Foundation – and the exhibition marks the tenth anniversary of the Foundation’s Theatre and Opera Institute, based on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Through an extensive display of rare archival documents, unpublished materials, film footage and period photographs, the exhibition traces Borelli’s theatrical career from her successes on Italian and world stages through to her triumphs on the silver screen.  It also provides an overview of Borelli’s personality, which perfectly embodied the modernity of the early twentieth century; an emancipated woman with a bold sense of style, she championed the jupe-culotte (the first form of women’s trousers), was one of the first women to experience the thrill of flying, and was one of the few women of her era to drive a motorcar.

Cover of the book The Lyda Borelli Theatre, edited by Maria Ida Biggi and Marianna Zannoni. Fratelli Alinari, Florence 2017
Lyda Borelli, 1910. Photography Varischi and Artico. Private collection

As well as featuring a series of portrait images by some of the leading photographers of the time such as Mario Nunes Vais and Arturo Varischi, the show displays a number of paintings of Borelli by Italian Belle Epoque artists, as well as Ettore de Maria Bergler – one of the main representatives of Sicilian Art Nouveau.  The Venetian dressmaking studio Atelier Nicolao has also made up three of the actress’s costumes especially for the exhibition, including that of Favetta, for the premiere of La Figlia di Iorio by Gabriele D’Annunzio, that of the protagonist in Oscar Wilde’s Salomé, worn during the famous “dance of the seven veils”, and a dress that gives a sense of Borelli’s elegance in everyday life.  Catch the exhibition in Venice until 15th November, before it sets off on a tour around Italy and beyond.

Lyda Borelli: A Leading Lady of the Twentieth Century is on view at Palazzo Cini until 15th November 2017.


October 2017

In 1495 the Grand Canal was described by a French ambassador as “the most beautiful street in the world” – and in our opinion, the same could certainly be said today. Remarkably, although this majestic waterway stretches over 3.8 km through the heart of Venice, until the 19th century there was only one bridge that crossed the canal – and today there are still just four:

Rialto Bridge: Originally a floating pontoon constructed in the 12th century, the Rialto is the oldest bridge on the Grand Canal.  The current stone structure, built during the 16th century and lined with shops, was designed by the appropriately named Antonio da Ponte (Anthony “of the bridge”), following a competition that involved submissions by some of Italy’s greatest architects including Palladio and Michelangelo.  At the time, its engineering was considered so audacious that many predicted its future collapse – but da Ponte’s design defied its critics and today is one of the most famous and photographed bridges in the world.

Accademia Bridge: Named after the Accademia di Belle Arti which was previously sited nearby, the original Accademia Bridge was designed by the English architect Alfred Neville, and constructed from steel in 1854. Demolished in 1932 under Mussolini’s rule, it was replaced by what was intended as a temporary wooden structure, which remained in place for over half a century.  In 1985, when the city held a competition for a new design, no winner was selected – and instead the bridge was simply reconstructed with a direct wooden replica.

Scalzi Bridge: First erected in 1858 to connect the city of Venice to its new train station, the original Scalzi bridge was also designed by Alfred Neville.  Too low to accommodate the passage of large boats underneath, the bridge proved unpopular with Venetians – and when the first signs of weakness began to show in the 1930s, a replacement was commissioned from Italian architect  Eugene Miozzi.  Elegantly constructed from Istrian stone, the bridge is named after the nearby Chiesa degli Scalzi (Church of the Barefoot Monks).

Constitution Bridge: Inaugurated on 11th September 2008 to mark the 60th anniversary of the Italian constitution, today this bridge is more commonly called Calatrava Bridge – after its designer, the Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava.  A deeply controversial addition to Venice’s architectural landscape, the construction was met with widespread outrage by Venetians, with objections including its cost (estimated at approximately €10 million), its modern appearance, its slippery steps, and its inaccessibility for the disabled (before a mobile pod was installed).  In spite of the initial criticisms, the bridge has one of the highest rates of pedestrian traffic in the city, due to its location near Venice’s main transport hub at Piazzale Roma.


October 2017

TESORI DEI MOGHUL E DEI MAHARAJA: La Collezione Al Thani Palazzo Ducale Venice

Following blockbuster shows in New York, London, Paris and Kyoto, the world-renowned Al Thani Collection of Indian gems and jewels has arrived for a sensational new exhibition at the Doge’s Palace in Venice, where it will be on view until 3rd January 2018.

Dramatically displayed against a glittering, ethereal backdrop in the Sala dello Scrutinio, the exhibition presents nearly 300 pieces from the extraordinary collection of jewels, gems and precious stones assembled by His Highness Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah Al Thani, a member of the Qatari Royal Family.

Ornamento per turbante, India, 1900 circa, Fermaglio, Cartier Parigi, 2012, Oro, argento, smeraldo, diamanti, perla h. 11,7 cm, largh. 12,8 cm, © The Al Thani Collection
Girocollo del nizam di Hyderabad India, 1850-1875, Oro, diamanti, smeraldi, smalto, h. 26 cm, largh. 19,6 cm, © The Al Thani Collection

Opening with an evocation of the Mughal treasury, the exhibition leads visitors on a magical journey through five centuries of the jewelled arts made in and inspired by the Indian subcontinent – from the descendants of Genghis Khan and Tamerlane to the great Maharajas, whose extravagant jewellery commissions in the 20th century produced innovative works from European jewellery houses such as Cartier.

The wealth of treasures on display is astonishing, with particular highlights including The Idol’s Eye, the world’s biggest cut able diamond, and the Arcot II, one of the two diamonds presented to Queen Charlotte – wife of King George III – by the Nawab of Arcot.  Also on view are The Wine Cup of Emperor Jahangir, considered to be the earliest dated Mughal jade, and a tiger-head Finial from the gold-encrusted throne of Tipu Sultan, made for the ruler’s accession to power, and dismantled after Tipu was killed by British forces in 1799.

The final display features contemporary Indian and European jewels that have been inspired by the Indian tradition – serving as a dazzling conclusion to this superb exhibition which not only showcases over 500 years of design and beauty, but also tells a fascinating story of the relationship between Eastern and Western culture and society.

Treasures of the Mughals and of the Maharajas – The Al Thani Collection is on view at the Doge’s Palace until 3 January 2018.  

Last Thursday a large crowd gathered in the church of Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, to celebrate the unveiling of one of Titian’s most stunning masterpieces – the Madonna di Ca’ Pesaro – after five long years of restoration by Save Venice Inc.

Painted between 1519-1526, this sumptuous altarpiece was originally commissioned by Jacopo Pesaro, who had purchased an altar in the Frari in 1518 for his family’s worship and burial.  Titian’s painting was intended to serve as a votive for the Pesaro family, and also to commemorate Jacopo’s triumphs in war; a few years earlier in 1502 he had led the allied Venetian and papal forces to victory in a famous battle against the Turks at Santa Maura.

Over the centuries that followed, the Pesaro painting deteriorated considerably, due to a number of factors including rainwater leaks from a window above the altarpiece.  Finally, however, thanks to the highly complex and costly conservation campaign orchestrated by Save Venice Inc, the masterpiece has been restored to its original glory and is back in its original setting for all to admire.

Save Venice Inc is an American charity that was established in response to the serious damage caused by the disastrous floods of November 1966 – the highest tide in Venice in the last century.  Since then, the charity has raised more than $25 million to restore the art and architecture of Venice.  To see one of their ongoing projects in progress, visit the church of San Sebastiano, where specialists are currently working to restore the church and its many artistic treasures including a vast decorative cycle by Paolo Veronese, who is buried within the building.

The Madonna di Ca’ Pesaro is on view at the Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari. San Polo 3072, 30125 Venice.

The church of San Sebastiano is situated in Campo San Sebastiano, Dorsoduro, 30100, Venice.

For more information about the churches, visit

For more information about Save Venice Inc, visit

Bruno Amadi, Photo by Carlo Morucchio

For over a millennium, glass has been one of Venice’s most highly prized exports; at one stage the Venetian Republic guarded its glassblowing secrets so closely that any glassblower who divulged his techniques to an outsider was liable to face the death penalty. This month, from 10th – 17th September, the city’s proud glass-making heritage will be celebrated with an exciting new festival titled “The Venice Glass Week” which will see more than 150 glass-related events taking place at over 100 different venues, including some of Venice’s finest specialist glass shops. We’ve picked a few of our favourites:

L’Isola” – Carlo Moretti showroom

Based on Calle delle Botteghe, “L’Isola” is one of the most stylish glass showrooms in Venice, offering elegant designs from Carlo Morretti – a family firm that was founded in 1958 by brothers Carlo and Giovanni Morretti. Specialising particularly in tableware and drinking glasses, Morretti designs are renowned for their avant-garde forms, clean lines and vibrant colours.

“L’Isola” – Carlo Moretti Showroom, Calle delle Botteghe, S. Marco 2970

Monolite Z 50.C, 2001, Design Carlo Moretti

I Vetri a Bruno Amadi

Having started work in a Murano glassworks at the age of eleven, Amadi has been shaping his exquisite natural forms by lamp for over forty years. Visit his shop on Calle dei Saoneri, and be amazed by the extraordinary skill he uses to create dragonflies, anchovies, lizards and even ants, all brought to life from coloured glass canes.

I Vetri a Bruno Amadi, Calle dei Saoneri, San Polo, 2749

Marina and Susanna Sent

Marina & Susanna Sent

 Defying the age-old belief that the glass industry is solely for men, Murano-born sisters Marina and Susanna Sent founded their company in 1993, and soon became internationally celebrated for their highly contemporary glass jewellery. Their minimalist statement necklaces are stocked by some of the world’s top museum shops, from MoMA to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. For a full range, and a chance to meet the designers in person, visit one of their three Venice stores, or their laboratory showroom in Murano.

Marina & Susanna Sent: Various locations: visit

Massimo Micheluzzi 

Micheluzzi is one of Venice’s most respected glass artists, whose works fuse complex traditional techniques such as “murrina” and “battuto” with a highly contemporary aesthetic. Call in to his atmospheric atelier / showroom to discover his voluptuous vases and objets d’art, with patterns inspired by the intricate mosaics that appear on the city’s ancient floors and courtyards, and colours that recall “the atmosphere of Venice, the lagoon, the silvery waterways and the cloudy skies.”

Massimo Michluzzi, Ponte delle Maravege, Rio S. Trovaso, Dorsoduro 1071

Massimo Micheluzzi

Published September 2017

Cimitero di San Michele, as featured in The Wings of a Dove

September 2017: Founded in 1932 as part of the Venice Biennale, the Venice Film Festival is the world’s oldest film festival in the world – and arguably the most glamorous too.  While most of the action officially takes place on the Lido, over the last few days the Grand Canal has resembled a floating red carpet, with A List stars such as Robert Redford, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone being shuttled by open-top water taxis to and from their glittering premieres.  To coincide with this year’s festival, we’ve picked some of our favourite Venice film locations:

Don’t Look Now (1973): Nic Roeg’s chilling classic, based on the short story by Daphne Du Maurier, is set almost entirely on location in out-of-season Venice. The atmospheric 12th century Chiesa di San Nicolò dei Mendicoli features heavily, as the church being restored by lead character Donald Sutherland.

Death in Venice (1971): Directed by Luchino Visconti, this melancholy period piece is largely set at the luxurious Grand Hotel des Bains on the Lido.  Viewers can also spot La Fenice opera house, as well as the old Banca Commerciale Italiana in St Mark’s Square.

Interior of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli
Torre dell’Orologio

Moonraker (1979): Roger Moore’s gondola chase through the Cannaregio canals is arguably one of the most amusing Bond sequences of all time.  As well as scenes at the Hotel Danieli and Ca’ Rezzonico, his dramatic burst through the Clocktower (Torre dell’Orologio) is especially memorable.

The Wings of a Dove (1997): This sumptuous Henry James adaptation, directed by Iain Softley and starring Helena Bonham-Carter, features numerous beautiful locations including Caffé Florian, Santa Maria delle Salute and Campiello Querini Stampalia. But the funeral procession across the lagoon, as a sombre ceremonial gondola carries the coffin of Milly Theale towards the peaceful cemetery island of San Michele, is the most ensuring scene of all.

The 74th Venice International Film Festival continues until 9th September.