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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A History of the Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art

What is the Ca’ Pesaro?

The Ca’ Pesaro International Gallery of Modern Art is an Impressive collection of Modernist masterpieces (and Venice’s Museum of Oriental Art) set in a sumptuous 17th-century Baroque palace.

Adriano, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Ca’ Pesaro History

You may not expect an avant-garde art collection to be hidden inside the most lavish Baroque palace on the Grand Canal, but Venice is a city full of surprises. Ca’ Pesaro is best known for its remarkable collection of modern Italian art; innovative works by Giorgio Morandi, Giorgio de Chirico, Giacomo Balla and Lucio Fontana line its walls, coupled with the oddly unsettling sculptures of Medardo Rosso and Adolfo Wildt. Non-Italian showstoppers include Gustav Klimt’s elaborately decorative Judith II and a version of Auguste Rodin’s iconic sculpture The Thinker.

The magnificent palace was built for the noble Pesaro family. The building was designed in the mid-17th century by Baldassare Longhena, Venice’s greatest Baroque architect and the man behind both the church of Santa Maria della Salute and Ca’ Rezzonico, just a couple of kilometres down the canal. Longhena took inspiration from the harmonious classicism of 16th-century architect Jacopo Sansovino. Unfinished at Longhena’s death in 1682, the palace was eventually completed by his pupil Antonio Gaspari, more than 50 years since the project was first begun.

Ca’ Pesaro’s grand interiors and beautifully frescoed ceilings leave no doubt about the Pesaro family’s power and prestige. Remember to look up as you’re exploring and you’ll discover work by some of the city’s greatest Baroque artists, Nicolò Bambini, Giovanni Battista Pittoni, and Francesco Trevisani among them. Such a grand family of course would have had its own art collection and the Pesaros’s was reputedly unsurpassed, filled with Renaissance masterpieces by Bellini, Giorgione, Titian and Tintoretto. But you won’t find any of this collection here today. By 1830, with the death of the last remaining family member, most of it had been sold. And the palace? Up for grabs.

Ca’ Pesaro passed through a number of different hands before it was bought by the Bevilacqua family. Duchess Felicita Bevilacqua La Masa was an avid collector and enthusiastic patron of young artists. In 1898, she bequeathed the palace and its contents to the city of Venice, with the stipulation that it was opened to the public as a museum of modern art. Between 1908 and 1924 Ca’ Pesaro hosted the famed Bevilacqua La Masa shows, exhibiting work from the annual residency the duchess had set up and administered throughout her lifetime. Though the shows no longer take place at Ca’ Pesaro, twelve artists under the age of 35 are still selected each year to take part in the program, according to instructions made well over a century ago.

Over the years, the duchess’s collection has been bolstered by art acquired by the town council at each Biennale (Venice’s famed biennial art exhibition), as well as through generous private bequests from the local nobility. Even King Victor Emmanuel III donated four paintings. The palace also houses over a hundred works on long-term loan from the Sonnabend Collection, enriching the original display with pivotal works of Pop Art, Arte Povera, Anti-form, Minimalism and Conceptual Art.

If you have time, why not pop up to the top floor of the palace, where you’ll find something completely different: Venice’s Museum of Oriental Art. We told you this was a city full of surprises!

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