A Brief History of Ca’ Vendramin Calergi in Venice
What is Ca’ Vendramin Calergi?
Ca’ Vendramin Calergi is a 15th-century palazzo that’s home to Venice’s primary casino and the Wagner Museum.
Ca’ Vendramin Calergi History
In the 15th century, Andrea Loredan, a member of the aristocratic and immensely wealthy Loredan family, decided to build a palace on land which had belonged to his ancestors for a century. He was an ambitious man, who probably aspired to the dogeship, and who had commissioned a chapel for himself and his wife in the important church of San Michele in Isola. It took him several years to acquire additional land in the 1480s and ‘90s, when the palace was probably begun and when he officially entered the Senate. In his will of 1513, the palace is indicated as completed and was frescoed by the great Renaissance painter Giorgione, even if, sadly, no trace of these frescoes survives today. The palazzo changed hands many times over the following centuries (which resulted in its current name), from the Loredan to the Duke of Brunswick, to Vittore Calergi (who greatly extended it) and his daughter Marina Grimani, then to the Vendramins (who owned it for more than a century), Bourbons and the Venetian businessman Giuseppe Volpi, before being sold to the municipality of Venice in 1946. The harmonious and graceful palazzo is commonly known as ‘the casino’. In truth, the world’s first public casino did open in Venice, but quite far from here, in the Palazzo Dandolo at San Moisé in 1638 (which subsequently moved here in the 1950s).
The building is an important example of Renaissance architecture, constructed to the plans of 15th-century architect Mauro Codussi. In 1581, it was described by scholar Francesco Sansovino as ‘of great volume and great height, and older than all the others, and almost perched on an island. It is very noble, for, apart from the abundance of rooms, it has the façade covered in Greek marbles, with great windows and Corinthian columns’. The Italian writer Gabriele D'Annunzio gave the following description in his 1900 novel Il Fuoco: ‘with an aerial aspect, as a sculpted cloud resting on the water’. Although the lavish structure might appear somewhat divine, its owners were cautious not to overstep the mark (or rather be seen to overstep it). If you look at the waterfront façade, you’ll see a small Latin inscription engraved in the stone under the ground-floor windows: ‘Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us’, a quote from the beginning of Psalm 115, which ends with ‘…but unto Thy name give glory’. The sumptuous palazzo was apparently erected for God’s glory rather than for its aristocratic owners. Today, the palace is known locally as ‘Non Nobis Domine’, the first three words of the inscription.
It has an intentionally classical façade with an elongated front, composed of three orders of windows, as if it were a lodge. The shape of each window is quite unusual, composed of two adjacent arched windows divided by a column, topped by a lobe, and set within a further arch. The shape of the windows pays homage to antiquity and is inspired by the triumphal arches of ancient Rome. Despite this innovative façade, the interior of the building is in the typical shape of a Venetian palazzo, with a wooden ceiling and precious Murano chandeliers, as well as many original paintings still hanging on the walls, such as works by Jacopo Palma il Giovane. Although the palace has a less elegant side, facing away from the Grand Canal, it does feature a courtyard where you can admire one of the oldest water wells in Venice, dating back to the 11th century.
Not only does the Ca’ Vendramin Calergi host a casino, but it’s also home to the intimate Wagner Museum. The German composer Richard Wagner, famous for his reform of opera, visited Venice many times in his life, driven by a desire for peace and quiet. In fact, Wagner, in a letter to his father-in-law, written just before his first trip to Venice, said: ‘Life in the big city has become completely unbearable for me, mainly because of the din of carriages that infuriates me. Now everyone knows that Venice is the calmest city, I mean the quietest city in the world and that is why I have decided it is absolutely the place for me’. The great composer, who had rented the entire mezzanine floor of this palazzo, suddenly died of a heart attack here in 1883. In 1995, the Richard Wagner Association of Venice was entrusted with part of the palazzo’s mezzanine floor, which now accommodates a museum commemorating the composer’s life and his love for the city.
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