Venice Museums, a journey through the history of the Serenissima

Venice sinks, the collection should be preserved somewhere in the vicinity of Venice. – Peggy Guggenheim

Tourists visiting Venice Museums will be surprised, stunned and fascinated by the wonderful works of art they contain. The museum route that we are going to propose, is only a small piece of the vast cultural heritage of the city, yet it is the most lively and evolving piece. Venice museums have often received bequests and donations by privates and are continually enriched with purchases made by cultural institutions and public administrations.

Venice has buildings that are museums, such as Palazzo Ducale, and exhibition venues that have entered the ranks of top museums around the world, such as Peggy Guggenheim Collection. But there are also beautiful buildings such as Ca’ Rezzonico and Ca’ Pesaro that have naturally become museums after having been the residences of important Venetian noble families. The history of the city has a great relevance for Venice museums, as in the days of the Venetian Republic, from the Renaissance period through the 1700s, the greatest artists vied to work in the city of the Doges. However, Venice also hosts museums that cannot even be imagined in other parts of the world. Such as the Murano Glass Museum, where art of glass is recounted right from its origins through an exhibition of artifacts, and sessions where visitors can watch live the ancient glass-making art.

So tourists visiting Venice only need to choose the museum path that best suits their expectations. Families with children may opt for the beautiful Museum of Natural History, the spectacular Naval History Museum (with reproductions of real boats and warships) or the Murano Glass Museum where they can try out the glassblowing technique.

Peggy Guggenheim, a Contemporary Art Lesson

Peggy Guggenheim did for Modern Art, what the Medici have done for Renaissance art. Indeed, it’s thanks to her passion if great Abstract and Surrealist artists have crossed the borders of their own countries and have become a heritage for the whole world. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection was set up more than 50 years ago within Palazzo Venier dei Leoni and is one of the finest collections of modern art in the world, with hundreds of works displayed.

The number of names on the artists’ list is impressive, as in addition to the most famous, like Boccioni, Chagall, Dali, de Chirico, de Pisis, Duchamp, Fountain, Kandinsky, Klee, Magritte, Miró, Modigliani, Mondrian, Picasso, Pollock, Pomodoro, and Warhol, there are hundreds of less bombastic names, but equally fundamental to the history of modern painting, Abstract Art, Surrealism, Cubism, Futurism, and all the other avant-garde movements of the 20th century.

Not to be missed: the Peggy Guggenheim collection can be transformed into a unique venue for private events. In the evening, after 6.30, the museum can host gala dinners, buffets, cocktails with private visits to the Collections or temporary exhibitions, with exclusive use of the garden, of the panoramic terrace overlooking the Grand Canal and the Museum Cafè. Moreover, the most demanding can also enjoy private visits to the museum also before and after opening hours.

Accademia Galleries, the Art Gallery of Venetian Paintings

The Gallerie dell’Accademia are a plunge into painting from the 14th century through the 18th century. This art gallery is housed within the Scuola della Carità since 1807, and mainly hosts works from Venetian churches that over the centuries have been demolished or desecrated, especially during the Napoleonic period. As a result, a unique art gallery has arisen over time, with works by famous artists such as Titian, Mantegna, Canaletto, Tiepolo, Lotto, Veronese, Bellini, Carpaccio and Giorgione.

Not to be missed: on Friday and Saturday mornings, by appointment only, visitors can access the Quadreria. This is an exhibition of 80 paintings treasured in the Palladian monastery adjacent to the Academy Galleries. A long corridor on the second floor has been converted into an exhibition hall to accommodate the works of Venetian figurative art from the late 15th century through the 18th century. This is what Antonio Paolucci, current director of the Vatican Museums, said about the Quadreria in the ’70s, when he was the Minister of Culture: “It is the hidden museum that is for the visible museum what internal organs are for the skin and face of each of us.”

Museo Correr, a priceless heritage

At his death in 1830, Teodoro Correr, the last heir of a noble Venetian family, he left to the city of Venice his vast collections so that the wealth of paintings and works of art would not have been lost. Originally, the Correr Museum was set up within Fondaco dei Turchi, but as the collection grew further after the new acquisitions by the municipalities, a new location was required. Thus, since 1922, most of the Correr Museum’s collections are on display at Procuratie Nuove, in the so-called Napoleonic Wing, overlooking Piazza San Marco.

The gallery hosts works of art spanning from the 15th century through the 19th century, with views of Venice, several works by Canova including Daedalus and Icarus (1779.) In the halls, decorated with neoclassical, large frescoes, you can admire paintings by De Asola and Vicentino, while in the Hall n. 4 are kept some marble reproductions of the Lion of San Marco. In other rooms are displayed items belonged to the Doges, costumes, portraits, coin collections and official symbols of the Serenissima. Hall n. 13 is entirely dedicated to the Battle of Lepanto of 1571 between the fleets of the Ottoman Empire and those of the Holy League, to which Venice belonged: one of the highlights here is a bust of Captain Francesco Duodo, and a portrait of master Sebastiano Venier. Also the rooms with artifacts related to the world of navigation and trade are very interesting.

Not to be missed: the Correr Museum displays some important works by Giovanni Bellini, such as the Transfiguration of Christ, the Crucifixion of San Salvador and the Dead Christ supported by two Angels, as well as paintings by Vittore Carpaccio, including Man in a Red Hat and Two Venetian Ladies.

Oriental Art Museum, Ode to Japanese Art

Venice Museum of Oriental Art is housed in Ca’ Pesaro, Santa Croce district, also home to the International Gallery of Modern Art. The Museum of Oriental Art contains an incredible collection of more than 30,000 works of art and craftsmanship items collected by Henry of Bourbon during his trips to the Far East in the years between 1887 and 1889.

Unfortunately, the asset of Ca’ Pesaro fails to fully exploit the richness of the collection, but the fact remains that those who visit the Museum of Oriental Art will witness a collection of fine objects dating back to Japan Edo period, between 1630 and 1868, including lacquer works, swords, porcelain objects, paintings, textiles, weapons and personal items: this is the most important and extensive collection of Japanese art in the world with regards to that long historical period.

Not to be missed: very interesting are the jade and ivory works that Henry of Bourbon brought from China, Siam, Cambodia and from the island of Java. A highlight are the gilded clam shells used to play the game called Kai Awase: a kind of Memory Game of the Marumachi period, in the mid-1300s.

International Gallery of Modern Art, an Evolving Collection

Even the International Gallery of Modern Art, as well as the Museum of Oriental Art, is housed within Ca’ Pesaro, near Campo San Stae, Santa Croce district. The beautiful building was owned by the Bevilacqua Family, who donated it to the city to turn it into the Venice Biennale museum: among the works displayed, in fact, many come right from the first editions of the Exhibition, dating back to the early 20th century.

Over time, the collection has been greatly expanded through purchases and donations. Indeed, around the 1950s, the City bought European works of art, while donations have taken place over the decades, particularly in the ’60s with a bequest by Lionello De Lisi that enriched the collection with works by Morandi, Carrà , Kandinsky, De Chirico and Miro.

Not to be missed: some of the major works on display at the Gallery of Modern Art in Venice include Judith II by Klimt and copies of the sculpture entitled The Thinker by Rodin.

Venice Museum of 18th-Century Art, a Museum within the Museum

Venice Museum of 18th-Century Art is housed in Ca’ Rezzonico and is open to the public since 1936. The insight that operators had at the time was brilliant: in fact, the works were arranged as if they were part of the furnishings of the palace, so in addition to the paintings, the rooms were set up with furniture and frescoes taken from other Venetian palaces owned by the public administration, but also recovered from antique shops and art dealers. The final result is a faithful reproduction of the homes where Venetian nobles lived in the 1700s, surrounded by priceless works of art.

Recently, both the palace and the museum have undergone several restorations, maintenance work and cleaning of all the rooms, porches, porticoes, stairways and halls, and also including the works of art and furnishings. The result, also in this case, is the splendor that visitors can still witness when visiting Ca’ Rezzonico: bright windows and marble, unsoiled walls and floors. Ca’ Rezzonico is an actual museum within the museum, that also has spaces used for teaching and a well-stocked bookshop.

Not to be missed: on the so-called Piano Nobile floor, you can admire clothing, accessories and personal belongings that offer a really interesting insight into the everyday life of the golden era of the Serenissima.

Murano Glass Museum, Glass Masters at Work

The building in which the Murano Glass Museum is located is the Palace of the Bishops of Torcello. In 1840, the building was the seat of Murano Municipality, in 1861 it began to turn into a museum and archive, and in 1923 it became part of the Venetian Civic Museums.

Of particular historical interest is the ceiling of the central hall overlooking the Grand Canal of Murano, with frescoes dating back to the 1700s and three large chandeliers of the following century: the central chandelier is a magnificent work with 60 arms crafted by Giovanni Fuga and Lorenzo Santi on the occasion of the first Murano Glassmaking Exhibition in 1864.

The works displayed at the Murano Glass Museum are arranged according to a chronological order, covering the period between the 1400s and the 1900s, but it also hosts archaeological remains of the Roman Era dating back to the 1st and 3rd Century: Venice glass art takes on historical significance in the 14th century, although the glass blowing technique goes back to the 1st century BC, with origins in Palestine. Today the museum features hundreds of pieces, including the famous Murrine, different colors and sheets of glass fused together.

Not to be missed: the initiative Glass in Action organized at the Murano Glass Museum, allows visitors to watch live demonstrations of glass making and realization of items by master glassmakers. You can also watch a documentary called L’histoire du verre with insights into the history and techniques of Murano Glass.

Museum of Natural History, Dinosaurs and Butterflies

The palace called Fontego dei Turchi, located in the Santa Croce district, has been host to the Correr Museo until 1922. A year later, in response to engineer Giorgio Silvio’s idea, the building became the seat of Venice Museum of Natural History.

The museum displays collections that come both from donations and legacies by naturalists and direct acquisitions by the Museum management: due to the wealth of artifacts, many of them have been stored in deposits located within the Fontego dei Turchi Palace, accessible only to scholars and researchers upon permission. The Museum boasts more than two million units, which are all being catalogued and converted into digital format.

With regard to the exhibition, the ground floor hosts a scientific library, the Cetaceans Gallery and the Tegnue Aquarium: the latter re-creates the eco-system of the Lagoon Tegnue environment, with different species of fish and invertebrates. The first floor of the museum is divided into three sections: the first one is dedicated to fossils and paleontology, the second one describes the evolution of collecting practices and scientific museum, the third one is devoted to the complexity of living species, their adaptation to the environment and the different changes they’ve undergone during their evolution.

Not to be missed: the Museum of Natural History is certainly a mandatory stop for families with children visiting Venice. Indeed, here kids will be fascinated by the large, 7 meters-high skeleton of an Ouranosaurus, a huge dinosaur, or the huge crocodile skull discovered by paleontologist Ligabue in 1973. Girls, instead, will enjoy the charm of a beautiful butterfly collection.

Doge’s Palace, the Museum of the History of Venice

This masterpiece of Gothic architecture is a building formed by three large bodies: the wing facing St. Mark’s Basin with the Hall of the Great Council, the wing overlooking St. Mark’s Square with the Hall of Scrutiny, and the Renaissance wing, where the Doge lived.

The Palace was the heart of the political and administrative life of the Republic of Venice until the fall of the Serenissima in 1797. With the annexation of Venice to Italy in 1866, it became the seat of offices and the Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana until 1904. In 1923, Italian government assigned it to the City of Venice, which opens it to the public as a museum.

The Palace is worth visiting because it embodies the history of the city, but also its architectural evolution, from the first erection, between 1300 and 1400, to the rebuilding occurred during the Renaissance period. In fact, the different rooms date back to very different eras: the Hall of the Great Council dates to 1340, the Hall of Scrutiny dates to 1424, while the Renaissance wing dates to 1565. The ground floor hosts the Opera Museum which displays documents and artifacts related to the fabbriceria carried out by the Doge’s Palace administrators over the centuries. In the upper rooms you can admire the Lodge Atrium, with the Ducal House and the museum’s library, the Institutional Rooms with the Hall of Censors, i.e. the judges who oversaw the activity and morality of public administrators. Interesting are also Armory, the Santa Barbara weapons and ammunition’s deposit, and the prisons (“Piombi”) used for the detention of highly placed and religious characters (the unfortunate and the poor were kept in the “Pozzi” instead, dark, dank places located below sea level.)

Not to be missed: the Doge’s Palace boasts a number of secret itineraries, which can only be visited with guided tours and by appointment. These are trails that wind through the rooms where the political and administrative life of the city pulsed most vigorously. Extremely fascinating tours, where you can discover hidden accesses, otherwise unsearchable rooms, offices with confidential archives. For example, through a narrow passage in the room of the Regent to the Chancellery, you access the Torture Chamber, which is connected, in turn, directly with the Piombi.

Naval History Museum, Evidence of Italy’s Maritime History

Venice Naval History Museum, located within the Arsenal, gathers evidence of the maritime history of Italy and of course Venice, the so called Serenissima. Opened in 1923 in conjunction with the Maritime Museum of La Spezia, the Venetian museum complex also includes the Pavilion of Ships Museum, located in the oar workshop of the Arsenale, and the church of San Biagio.

The first three floors of the Museum are dedicated to the equipment used in different maritime eras and the people who have made the history of the Italian Navy, and the Navy of Venice. Here you can see models of traditional boats used in the Lagoon, Gondolas, fishing boats, but also Eastern ships. On the 4th floor there is the Swedish Room which houses historical relics that describe the close relationship between Venice and Scandinavia with regards to the naval and aircraft industries’ development. The Pavilion of Ships is opened to the general public on special occasions, and hosts real vessels, including the Elettra Yatch. Outside the building, you can admire two anchors of Austro-Hungarian battleships dating back to the years of World War I.

Not to be missed: the church of San Biagio, linked to the history of the Navy, has a strong symbolic value in this context. When a crew went out on a mission, crew members dropped by the church to attend Mass. The church also hosts the coffin of Admiral Angelo Emo, who is regarded as one of the greatest and most prestigious commanders in Italy’s Naval History.

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