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Venetian Palaces

May 1–September 1, 1995
East Building, Ground Floor, Study Center

This exhibition is no longer on view at the National Gallery.


original exhibition poster
click to enlarge

Overview: The palaces of Venice, mostly situated on the Grand Canal, present one of the great examples of urban residential architecture, remarkable for their technical accomplishments and the splendor of their artistic achievements. As early as the 7th century and into the 11th, Byzantine buildings established a legacy of style and structure that laid a foundation for Venetian architecture for the centuries that followed.

Although the date and form of the earliest Venetian palaces are unknown, by the 13th century Veneto-Byzantine palaces displayed qualities different from those in other Italian cities. Building techniques and particular functions of buildings were determined by Venice’s environment, surrounded as it was by water on all sides and constricted by a limited geographical area. Factors such as the necessity of restricting the height of buildings, the need of loading facilities and warehouses on the lower level, extensive use of windows to provide light to dark interiors, and the importance of facades and arcade frontages to provide buildings with decorative distinction all contributed to Venice’s unique, and basically consistent, architectural character.

The purpose of this exhibition was to display a few examples of the library’s many resources relating to such palaces. It began with the earliest guidebooks from the 16th century and continued with engravings of the same century providing particularly valuable documentation of buildings since destroyed or rebuilt. Two engravings of lost palaces by Vincenzo Coronelli illustrate this point.

Venice was fortunate in the quality of the photographers who documented buildings and scenes of the city in the middle and later years of the 19th century. Carlo Ponti and Carlo Naya, working in the 1850s and 1860s, were represented in the exhibition by particularly fine examples of Venetian topographical photography. The photographs on display were from the library’s Photographic Archives and the private collection of Douglas Lewis.

Organization: The exhibition was organized by the National Gallery of Art. Neal Turtell, executive librarian, was curator.