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  • Writer's pictureNicola Carotenuto, MA

A Brief History of Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti in Venice

What is Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti?

Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti is a 15th-century Renaissance-Gothic palace that now serves as the seat of the Veneto Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts.

Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti

Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti History

The Cavalli-Franchetti Palace is undoubtedly one of the most impressive sights from the Accademia Bridge, with its unusual, vibrant façade towering over the Grand Canal. In 1365, the powerful Marcello family bought the site where the present palace is built, but its construction didn’t start until a century later, during the period of transition between Gothic and Renaissance style architecture. It has attracted divided public opinion and critics alike for quite a while, as the palace is considered by some a masterpiece of the Gothic Revival in Venice, and by others a defacing of one of the most sumptuous palaces on the Grand Canal.

The palace has a commanding view over the Grand Canal. You’ll notice that the axis of the palace is central, and thus the large, elegant central window dominates the structure. It’s a window with five parts (known as a pentafora), while the upper section of each arch is elegantly intertwined with the following column and topped by four-lobed circles (a characteristically Gothic shape). The Russian-American writer Joseph Brodsky compared this type of architecture to the weaving of laces.

The palace originally belonged to the Marcello family. However, quite unusually, in the 16th century it was divided into two separate buildings. One was purchased by the influential Gussoni family, while the other went to the Cavallis, a distinguished clan whose reputation was established by Giacomo Cavalli, who came from Verona and defended Venice against the Genoese in the 14th century.

For the next three centuries, the palace was in fact perfectly divided into two completely independent buildings. In the 1840s, when both families were extinct, the palace was sold to Archduke Frederick of Austria, who died aged just 26 from jaundice. He tried to reunite the palace buildings, while at the same time modernising them. At his death, the palace was sold to the Count of Chambord, a pretender to the French throne. The current aspect is largely due to the extensive rebuilding by Giovanni Battista Meduna, the count’s chosen architect, who recreated the palace in an eclectic style. The count and his mother owned several palaces on the Grand Canal, but sold them all after the unification of Italy in the 19th century.

In 1878, the palace was bought by Baron Raimondo Franchetti (the husband of Sarah Luisa de Rothschild, from the Vienna branch of the famous banking family), who owned it for nearly 50 years and gave it its current name. During his tenure there was another extensive rebuilding programme, with the construction of the monumental staircase and the palace’s neo-Gothic façade by the architect Camillo Boito.

Since 1999, the building has belonged to the Veneto Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts, and is opened to the public for exhibitions and special cultural events.

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