Sunday, March 3, 2013

Grand Shuttered Ruin: Inside Palazzo Trevisan Cappello


With its richly-decorated facade of polychrome marble and porphyry, the late 15th-century Palazzo Trevisan Cappello is one of those rare private residences whose facade can almost compete with the surface grandeur of the nearby Basilica San Marco. Believed to have been designed by Bartolomeo Bon the younger, who was the initial architect of the Scuola di San Rocco, as well as of the Procuratie Vecchie in Piazza San Marco, the palazzo is also one of those buildings which nearly every visitor to Venice has seen, if not consciously noted. For located just a short way behind the basilica, and just down the canal spanned by the Bridge of Sighs, its ground floor has long been occupied by a glass showroom on one side, and a lace showroom on the other, both of which are reached by the same rather wide bridge.

There are occupied apartments on the topmost floors of the palazzo, but the piano nobile has been empty for quite some time. A friend told me that a little less than 10 years ago the latest owner of the palazzo had some elaborate plans to develop the property into extremely high end apartments, complete with the use of a private plane for intra-European jaunts. But those plans seem never to have gotten off the ground.


So the grandest floor of the building is still vacant of all but workmen--and, for a short time yesterday morning, of all but me. I had the unexpected chance to wander alone through the completely empty place, which seemed even larger than one might expect looking at it from the outside. Like many old Venetian residences that haven't been divided up into modern apartments, the dimensions of the space--the way one room leads to another, that one to another, that one to some dark narrow hall, that dark narrow hall to a tiny room situated at a slightly lower level--seem at a certain point to become fantastical, dream-like.

With almost all of the shutters closed up tight, and not a sound to be heard, you can almost start to believe that a particularly dark crooked blind hallway might, if followed, lead you into the depths of a maze from which there will be no easy or obvious or perhaps logical escape. Which is of course entirely irrational, for even in this infamously maze-like city buildings are limited in physical space; they don't just branch off from one dark shuttered room to another, to another, to another...

Do they?

Even if they give every indication of doing just that?

Alas, I didn't have all the time needed to find out. There were dark rooms and dark reaches I had to leave unexplored, and some I did see that were too dark to be photographed.

When I returned outside to the light of day and tourist bustle my shoes were coated with a soft fine powdery pale dust, like no other I'd ever encountered at a work-site, nor in our normal world of sunlight and open windows and comings and goings. Dust like that which must have settled upon Dickens's old Miss Havisham, I imagined, the almost immaterial residue of long idle empty decades.  














24 comments:

  1. OMG what a fabulous dream...wandering alone...surrounded by so much history!!
    Thanx for sharing your adventure with us!!

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    1. Thanks, Bailey, I was happy to be able to share it. It's the kind of thing one hopes to come upon, but usually one's best bet of getting access to such places is during the Biennale, which is great for that. This really was out of the blue, as my only plan was to visit a friend who works in the same building.

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  2. How great to be able to take photos that will be in nobody else's albums! Colour me green! Were you thinking of Don't Look Now as you wandered from room to room?

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    1. Oddly enough I didn't think of that movie at all, Bert--though as soon as I got home and described the interior to my wife, Jen, she said, "You're lucky you didn't encounter that little red-hooded slasher! Weren't you a little freaked out?"

      I think this is one instance in which a failure of imagination, or cinematic recollection, is something to be thankful for. Otherwise, I think I might have been just a little spooked...

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  3. Your description of the maze reminds me of pages in Il Gattopardo which describe how the nephew and his bride wander in the old palace in...Donnafugata it was? They were spending days and weeks discovering the previously unseen halls and corridors daily - which is certainly a Romantic exaggeration in a style of Walter Scott:)

    There is a web community in the LiveJournal - abandoned.ru - with plenty of photos shot in deserted factories, plants, hospitals and monasteries, I never miss an entry and I'm very much fascinated by this genre.

    What camera do you use? 2 days ago I've abandoned my - basically - point'n'shoot Pentax and graduated to a dSLR. Now I'm looking forward to experiences like the one you relate here. It's really fascinating. I was standing before Venetian palazzi many times wondering is there a chance of gaining entry somehow.

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    1. I hadn't thought of that, Sasha, but you're right, and it was Donnafugata--about which The Leopard himself is quoted as saying something like, "A house in which you know all the rooms is not worth living in".

      I'll have to check out that website, it sounds good.

      After my old dslr breathed its last, I recently bought a new Fujifilm x-e1, which I'm very happy with (and still learning about). It's not actually a dslr, as it doesn't have the mirror that such cameras do, but the image quality is at the level of the best dslrs and it has remarkable low-light capacity, which allows me to take pics that I formerly would have needed a tripod for (or actually used a tripod for). Pretty much all of the pics in this post I couldn't have taken w/ my old Canon dslr without a tripod.

      As for gaining entry, I think it's via the Biennale off-site installations or just plain luck...

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  4. Makes one long for a long lost relative to leave you his millions so you can buy a place like this.It looks beautiful. You can imagine everyone there in their 18th century finery. Are the workmen getting it ready for someone to move in or is it just a case of making it safe?

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    1. You know, Andrew, if a long lost relative were just able to leave me a place like this I'd settle for that, without the millions. I really need to talk to my friend who works in the same palazzo to see if he knows what's really going on there--as well as to find out from his father, who's had his shop in the building for over 1/2 a century, when the last time the piano nobile was occupied.

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  5. how fabulous! thank you for sharing your experience with us!

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    1. I'm happy you like the pics, CV, thanks for you comment.

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  6. This is fascinating! Now I know where you had been before I met you with Jane near San Marco, the other day! Absolutely enchanting.

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    1. This is indeed where I'd been, Marenka, shortly before running into you guys. Enchanting it was, which is why I suspect that much as I'd have liked to walk with you all, I felt the need to visit another old--but restored--palazzo, the Querini Stampalia Museum. I wasn't yet ready to re-enter the contemporary world completely.

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  7. Je suis émerveillée, quelle belle visite, merci à vous pour le partage de ces très belles photos.
    À bientôt
    Danielle

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    1. I was actually amazed, too, Danielle, so I was glad that I could pass along what I saw--and tried to photograph.

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  8. Oh, Siggy, what an experience! You'll know that I have turned Fifty Shades of Green.

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    1. Actually, Yvonne) I thought that it seemed like the kind of thing you might (and have, and will again) come upon in the course of your extensive roaming!

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  9. What a stunning experience. I would love to wander about in those beautiful interiors.

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    1. When you do happen into a place like this, Susie, I hope Mark will have his camera along; I've really enjoyed seeing his gallery of photos of Venice:

      http://marklindsayart.com/#gallery

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  10. Fantastici i caminetti, veramente,
    sono una restauratrice che per lavoro è potuta entrare in numerosi palazzi veneziani,
    grazie per le immagini!

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    1. It sounds like you have a wonderful job that allows you access to so many different and remarkable interiors! I'm glad you liked the pics and thanks for your comment.

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  11. Sig. Nonloso! Can you please tell us how you gained access to the building? I am part of a very small Masters course in Venice that is looking at Venetian luxury and livelihoods this week and it'd be great to pop in and look at the interior of this building as an example of their living spaces.

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    1. I'm sorry to say, Masters Student, it was nothing more than Dumb Luck and Chance that gained me access to the building, so I don't know anyone to put you in touch with or any proper channel through which to gain access. In one sense, as that level of the palazzo was used as a sales showroom for many decades, it may not even be a great example of Venetian luxury and life. Or you might get just as accurate a sense of such things by visiting Ca' Rezzonico or the Querini-Stampalia, for example, museums open to the public.

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    2. Thanks! The Querini-Stampalia looks perfect for our purposes. Glad I stumbled across this blog too.

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    3. I hope it will be what you're looking for, Masters Student. Also of interest might be Palazzo Fortuny, as an early 20th-century dwelling with some of the decoration still intact made within an old palazzo.

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