Book review: Venice behind closed doors is a city of wonders

The interiors of private residences are opened up in this lavish coffee table tome

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 March, 2016, 6:01am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 March, 2016, 6:01am

Inside Venice: A Private View of the City’s Most Beautiful Interiors

by Toto Bergamo Rossi amd Jean-Francois Jaussaud


Venice has been a tourist attraction since the Renaissance for good reason: the canals, alleys, hidden gardens and outlandish architecture are like nothing else on the planet. Visitors can spend weeks wandering the city, discovering something new at every turn.

There’s a hidden world, though, which almost every tourist has been missing – the dizzying, gorgeous rooms within the city’s richest residential homes. In the new book, Inside Venice: A Private View of the City’s Most Beautiful Interiors, we finally have a chance to peek inside these palazzos.

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The book is written by Francesco “Toto” Bergamo Rossi, the aristocratic head of the Venetian Heritage foundation who is perhaps most famous for restoring his own 17th-century Palazzo Gradenigo, whose giant piano nobile (second storey) he reportedly occupies by himself. The foreword is co-written by Diane von Furstenberg and the star architect Peter Marino (who note that “Venice’s uniqueness made it something of a 14th-century Manhattan”).

These are heavy-hitters, in other words, and thus it should be no surprise that the homes featured in the book are unique, personal, and often lavish beyond belief.

One of the best is the Palazzetto Alvisi Gaggia, which directly fronts the Basilica Santa Maria della Salute. It’s actually three palazzos from different periods – the earliest is from the 17th century, the other two were built at indeterminate later dates – which were eventually combined.

Elsewhere, you’ll learn about Ca’ Foscolo, a grand but not ornate medieval building which was redecorated first in the 16th century (so we know it’s more than 600 years old), and then in the 19th century by the ancient aristocratic Alighieri family, a member of whom was the mayor of Venice during roughly the same period as the restoration. The building, which features a grand main hall lined with books and important mannerist paintings, was restored a final time by its (recent) present owners.

Another highlight is the 15th-century Palazzo Bernardo, which was “probably” built for two brothers – often the case in Venice where primogeniture (basically: the first born son gets everything) didn’t exist. Further evidence lies in the building’s two water doors, and two totally separate ground entrances. The Bernardo coat of arms is still visible, and the palazzo’s several large, gracious halls are lined with tapestries, 16th- and 17th-century oil paintings, and various gilded sconces. There’s an oak-panelled library, and one wing of the building is decorated in vibrant, polychrome frescoes from the mid-18th century. This building was also recently meticulously restored by its current owners, and its floor plan has been returned to its original, Gothic footprint.