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  • Writer's pictureNicola Carotenuto, MA

A Brief History of Palazzo Dario in Venice

What is Palazzo Dario?

Palazzo Dario, also known as Ca' Dario, is a Renaissance-style palazzo in Venice that was built in the 15th century, and has a reputation for bringing bad luck to its owners.

Palazzo Dario

Palazzo Dario History

Ca’ Dario is popularly known as the ‘cursed palace’, and rumoured to have caused bad luck to all its owners. It’s a typical Renaissance palace, unlike the vast majority of the other buildings facing the Grand Canal, which are mostly either Gothic or Baroque. It has a characteristically slim aspect, being just ten metres wide. Despite its infamous reputation, it’s a magnificent example of Renaissance architecture, with four floors, and in typical Venetian style the lowest has a water gate, used for access to the canal. The chimneys are amongst the few original now surviving in Venice. Unfortunately, it’s a private property and is not normally open, but the interiors are as lavish as the outside, with graceful marble columns, wooden ceilings, marble slabs all over, and expensive Murano glass chandeliers. It has fascinated generations of artists, such as Impressionist Claude Monet, who depicted it in a series of paintings all from the same perspective, but with different lighting conditions. American novelist Henry James described the palace as ‘a house of cards that hold together by a tenure it would be fatal to touch’.

Venice, Palazzo Dario by Claude Monet, (edited: cropped), CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

The palace was built at the behest of Giovanni Dario, a prominent diplomat of the city, here in the sestiere (or district) of Dorsoduro. Unlike almost all the other palaces on the Grand Canal, it was not built for a noble family. Dario, originally from Crete, was a civil servant, and he served as a notary, secretary, and diplomat in Istanbul and Cairo. He was entrusted with a delicate task: in the 1460s and ‘70s a long and bitter conflict pitted the Venetians and the Turks against one another. It ended thanks to a treaty negotiated by him in 1479. He managed to secure favourable terms, and was bestowed a peerage, land worth 1,500 ducats, and his daughter’s dowry. He commissioned Pietro Lombardo, a prominent artist and architect, to build the palace in 1479. At his death the palace was inherited by his daughter Marietta, who married Vincenzo Barbaro, a rich spice trader. The palace belonged to the Barbaro family until the fall of the Republic at the end of the 18th century.

The building attained its nickname the ‘cursed palace’ due to its infamous reputation for bringing bad luck to its owners. In fact, its first owner died peacefully at the ripe age of 80. The legend says that the curse began with Vincenzo Barbaro going bankrupt and his wife Marietta committing suicide. In truth, the palace was rented for a handsome sum and Marietta died of natural causes at the age of 39, which was fairly common in 16th-century Europe. After the Barbaro family ownership, the palace was sold in the 19th century to Arbit Abdoll, an Armenian merchant, who as the legend tells us, went bankrupt, selling the palace to the historian Rawdon Brown. Apparently, he lost his fortune, but in reality he merely sold the palace to a Hungarian count. The building then changed hands and had a series of owners, among whom were the wealthy French aristocrat Countess Isabelle de La Baume-Pluvinel, and the American billionaire Charles Briggs, who had to leave Venice because he was gay. The only true crime inside the palace was when Count delle Lanze was brutally killed in 1970 by his lover. Ca’ Dario was then bought by Kit Lambert, manager of the famous rock group The Who, who owned the building for a few years. He never fell into disgrace (aside from the use and abuse of drugs), nor was he killed in Venice. In 2006, the building was purchased by an anonymous buyer and passed on to an American company for renovation. With only one owner killed in the palazzo and few suffering misfortunes, perhaps the ‘cursed palace’ isn’t a name this magnificent building deserves.

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