The Golden House of Venice is one of the city’s most outstanding works of architecture. In a city renowned for them, that is quite a claim. But the accolade is well earned.
As a main European center of trade for centuries, Venice enjoyed influences from all over the continent and the Middle East. This mixture affected architecture along with much else in this cosmopolitan city.
Constructed in the mid-15th century, Ca’ d’Oro rises alongside the Grand Canal, the main waterway of the town. After 1430 it served as the home of the Contarini family. One of the quasi-noble families of the region, it gave Venice eight of its Doges between 1043 and 1676.
The pink and white facade, once gold leafed and giving the building its name, is a classic in the Venetian Gothic style. It sports the pointed arches of the Byzantine and elaborately carved posts with capitals that bear little resemblance to the Greek. The near-floral designs were the work of Giovanni Bon, a noted architect of the period.
The entrance is on the ground floor in a colonnaded loggia that is accessible directly from the canal level. Above this is a magnificent enclosed balcony, which is just outside the art gallery on the upper floor. Once inside, the view becomes even more impressive.
The inner courtyard gives a sense of peace in an otherwise bustling city – in those rare moments when it isn’t crowded with awe-struck visitors. The vera di pozzo or wellhead provides an interesting sight while resting one’s feet. Further on the reasons for those amazed expressions aren’t far to seek.
There are 16th century Flemish tapestries in one room. In another, one can find a collection of bronzes spanning the 12th – 16th centuries. Furniture from nearly every period and place fill every room.
The gallery holds paintings that would compete on equal terms with those in the Gallerie dell’Accademia not far away. There is Mantegna’s San Sebastiano and Venus at the Mirror by Titian. There are paintings by Tintoretto, Giorgione and Carpaccio. The Dutch even made it to Venice in the form of works by Van Dyck and Jan Steen.
Outside, the balcony provides a breathtaking view of the Grand Canal. While there, don’t just look down. Look out and up to get a close-up view of the intricately carved quatrefoil windows. The polychrome marble incrustations are alone worth the climb to this second floor.
From this loggia one gains easy access to a small room containing outstanding ceramics. There are cups and plates, and a small collection of kitchenware that would impress even the wealthiest in 15th century Venice.
Visit Ca’ d’Oro and discover why, even shorn of its gold exterior, the Golden House is a treasure.