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  • Writer's pictureFrancesca Ramsay, MA

A Brief History of the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice

What is the Fondazione Querini Stampalia?

The Fondazione Querini Stampalia is a cultural foundation in Venice that contains a historic house museum featuring rare collections of priceless furniture, paintings, porcelain and sculpture.

Fondazione Querini Stampalia

Sailko, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Fondazione Querini Stampalia History

This 16th-century palazzo was once home to the noble Querini Stampalia family. Its second floor, which now serves as a historic house museum, has been recreated in the ravishing style of a traditional Venetian palace and filled with the family’s incomparable collection of ornate furniture and fine and decorative art. Feast your eyes upon Old Master paintings, antique clocks, musical instruments, hand-painted globes, Sèvres porcelain, Venetian sculpture and Flemish tapestry. The foundation’s fantastic print collection is comprised of over two and a half thousand engravings from all over the Veneto region, as well as beautifully hand-coloured atlases and around 200 illustrated volumes. Its precious collection of drawings includes works attributed to the schools of Giovanni Bellini and Titian.

The foundation was established in 1869 by Count Giovanni Querini, last descendant of the Querini Stampalia family. Since the beginning, the foundation’s mission has been to nurture learning, scholarship and the exchange of ideas in an open and inspiring atmosphere. In Giovanni’s own words, ‘to promote the study of worthwhile disciplines’. The foundation’s library still (for the most part) adheres to the count’s chosen opening hours. Frustrated by the constant closure of other public libraries around the city, he demanded in his will that his should stay open over every public holiday and well into each evening. Venetian academics have a lot to thank him for!

The family’s history as art collectors began with the wedding of Francesco Querini and Paola Priuli in April 1528. Look out for the couple’s wedding portraits, painted by the family portraitist Jacopo Palma il Vecchio almost 500 years ago. These artworks mark the beginning of what is today a 400-strong collection of paintings. Its treasures include 14th-century panels from the Neo-Byzantine School, as well as The Presentation of Christ in the Temple, Bellini’s solemn Renaissance masterpiece.

The palace is also home to Neoclassical sculpture by the inimitable Antonio Canova, as well as to seven marble busts by Baroque sculptor Michele Fabris. Greeting all visitors on entrance, this intimidating bunch are colloquially known as the bravi (or ‘heavies’), referring to Francesco Querini’s notoriously heavy-handed guards.

Although much of the palace has been meticulously restored in its original style, the foundation holds a lively programme of contemporary exhibitions and unusual events, ensuring it’s a space where past and present are in continual dialogue. Various recent gifts and bequests mean the foundation’s original collection is now coupled with work from the 19th and 20th centuries. Modern sculpture includes work by Medardo Rosso and Alberto Viani.

The Fondazione Querini Stampalia is a unique institution, one which showcases the patrimony of an aristocratic family and its historic espousal of contemporary art. This fusion of old and new is reflected not just in the collection, but in the palace’s architectural additions. Famed Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa used water as the main theme of his mid-20th-century restoration and redesign of the ground floor. You’ll notice channels running through it and into the peaceful Japanese-inspired courtyard garden. The mosaic walls there were designed by Scarpa’s friend Mario de Luigi using Murano glass.

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