10 August 2014
Known for Peggy Guggenheim and its exposition, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni was a place where a great woman devoted her life to the love of art: the Marchioness Luisa Casati, one of the lovers of Gabriele D’Annunzio. While being a symbol of eccentric beauty, she also met major European artists of the twenties and thirties and made Palazzo Venier dei Leoni the space of her art life.
Casat’s personal life and the history of the building are inseparable much to the validation of my own belief that our life is influenced by the place where we are living, that even a single stone has a power in our life. In this regard, we can understand why Palazzo Venier dei Leoni had influence on its tenants.
But, why did Marchioness Luisa Casati and Peggy Guggenheim decided to buy Palazzo Venier dei Leoni? And what was the reason that attracted them to choose this place? I think the personality of these two women combined with the unfinished structure, extravagance and charm of the building was the main factor that attracted them to buy the building.
Palazzo Venier dei Leoni is known as “the unfinished building.” It was commissioned by the Venier family in the XVIII century to one of the most famous architects of this period, Lorenzo Boschetti. We don’t know the exact reason that left the building unfinished: the family could have run out of money or the powerful Corner family living opposite might have blocked the completion of building that would have been grander than their own. Another explanation may rest with the unhappy fate of the next door Gothic palace, which was demolished in the early 19th century because of structural damage. The structural damage was in part attributed to the unusually deep foundations of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.
An important aspect of the construction was the relationship between the building and its environment. Each element had to have a specific equilibrium with the surrounding environment to maintain the hierarchy and rapport between the two architectural elements previously mentioned. The original design included a building that summarizes the different classes of Palladio and Longhena, the two architects who had left their mark on the city with grand facades, respectively Renaissance and Baroque. For instance, one can analyze the original project at the Museo Correr in Venice, where the original design of the building is preserved.
Originally, the architect had intended to integrate the Venetian tradition in the organization of the space, distributing the rooms according to the traditional pattern while changing the shape of dell’entrada fractionally in successive areas. This ambitious project shows an entrance portico from the ground – tetrastilo – and a portico on the water; atrium junction and a large yard with double semicircular colonnade with large spaces, with carefully designed joints and regular; three orders of semi-single and twin in front, an example of a magnificent classical façade, facing Palazzo Corner della Ca’ Granada. The three rows of arches from the bottom indicate the succession of higher noble floors. Another important aspect of the building is represented by the inside garden, one of the biggest in the city, an element of considerable importance in a city where a garden is a rarity. Today, we can appreciate this lovely garden embellished from one of the most eminent expositions of the world, thank to Peggy Guggenheim, a woman who knew how to adapt her artistic treasure, so perfect so complete with the “unfinished” Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.
Peggy Guggenheim was an American art collector, bohemian and socialite. She spent half of her life with a mission to protect the art of her period. She succeeded and today we can appreciate her efforts in this collection gathered in the Museum. Everything in the Museum and each painting would later become a part of the extravagance of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni and this great woman. And the remarkable sign of that is represented in the different style of the collection: Cubism, Futurism, Metaphysical painting, European abstraction, avant-garde sculpture, American Abstract Expressionism and Surrealism and each fills the space in a perfect way.
“The Empire of Light” is one of the first paintings to admire when you enter to the Peggy Guggenheim Museum and immediately you will perceive the contrast between lights. The work combines two different times, opposed to each other: the upper half is seen in broad daylight, and lower at night. The brightness of the sun sparks a sense of confusion and “malaise,” traditionally connected to darkness. Using the figure of speech of the oxymoron, Magritte wanted to combine words, and imagines with opposite meaning in order to shock visitors. This paint magnifies the geometric architecture of the interior space, but it is also what we need to elevate the meaning of the paint, the building, and its space in the same way as the contrast between Palazzo Venier dei Leoni and the others building surrounding it. This way, each element becomes essential to achieve equilibrium, which is at the heart of the world, of art and of our life.