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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A Brief History of Ca’ Rezzonico in Venice

What is Ca’ Rezzonico?

Ca’ Rezzonico is a museum in Venice that exhibits a collection of 18th-century furniture, paintings and sculpture housed in opulent surroundings.

Ca’ Rezzonico on the grand canal

Didier Descouens, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Ca’ Rezzonico History

This extravagant Baroque palace is home to the city’s 18th-century art collection, as well as numerous private bequests. Over four floors you’ll find works by the Venetian masters. Ca’ Rezzonico is also one of the few places in Venice where you can see work by Canaletto, the master of Venetian vedute (or ‘views’). The collection houses two of his unrivalled and luminescent canal scenes, as well as paintings by Pietro Longhi, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo and Francesco Guardi.

The palace was commissioned in the 17th century by the aristocratic Bon family, and designed by famed Baroque architect Baldassare Longhena. Unfortunately, this monumental project proved a little too ambitious for the family’s finances, and when the architect died in 1682, all work on it ground to a halt. For over 50 years the incomplete palace remained an eyesore on the Grand Canal, until it was bought in 1751 by Giovanni Battista Rezzonico. From an unknown family who had actually paid to receive a noble title, he wanted a grand palace to complement their new status in Venice. Some 70 years after Longhena’s death, Rezzonico commissioned Giorgio Massari to put his own stamp on the palace’s original design. The architect added a grand ceremonial staircase and knocked two floors together to create a spectacular ballroom – then unrivalled in Venice for its size and decadent frescoes, including an enormous depiction of the Rezzonico coat-of-arms. The skilled illusionistic frescoes were a collaboration between Giovanni Battista Crosato and Pietro Visconti. Ornamental furnishings by Andrea Brustolon, one of the greatest Baroque wood carvers, reveal the exuberant decorative taste of the Venetian Baroque.

The palace was completed in five years, just in time for the family’s ascent to social prominence when Giovanni Battista Rezzonico’s younger brother, Carlo, was elected Pope in 1758, becoming Clement XIII. Unfortunately, this did not ensure the longevity of the Rezzonico family. For lack of male heirs, the name died out in 1810.

The palace changed hands on multiple occasions in the 19th century. The English poet Robert Browning was a tenant then and the American songwriter Cole Porter in the 20th century. It wasn’t until 1935 that the building – by then dilapidated and stripped of all its furnishings – was saved by the city, and restored in exuberant 18th-century style. Over the years, luxurious furniture, furnishings and even entire wall and ceiling frescoes have been rehomed here, creating an extraordinary opportunity to view 18th-century art in a contemporary setting.

If you find yourself on the third floor, you’ll discover something rather less in keeping with the museum’s overarching 18th-century theme – three original rooms of the 17th-century Ai do San Marchi pharmacy, originally located in the Campo San Stin. Majolica chemist’s jars line the walls, along with fine Murano glass receptacles. This floor also houses the early-20th-century Egidio Martini bequest, a noteworthy and wide-ranging collection that represents the very best of Venetian art from the 15th to the beginning of the 20th century. Martini was an art historian, picture restorer and academic, dedicated to re-evaluating forgotten artists. His collection has become a vital reference point for scholars and academics, making this a museum of global importance.

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