If there was one thing the previous owners had not planned, that was the ballroom. And yet the Rezzonicos spoke to their architect Giorgio Massari very clearly: the ballroom had to be there and, no need to say, it had to be astonishing!
In the year 1750 when Giorgio Massari was commissioned to complete the palace, left unfinished since 1682 by the Bon family, the back of the construction was ready while the front and the façade were half way. Two noble floors on top of each other, up to the roof. And yet, where else to fulfill this extravagant request of the new owners but in the rear? There only you could add that essential room for entertainment. One floor though, was not enough. You needed a lot of courage to decide what to do. But times had changed and the original functionality of the Venetian house was no longer sufficient to meet the new trend.
The ballroom in Ca’ Zenobio
The first ones had been the Zenobios.
At the end of the 1600s Antonio Gaspari had already completed their spacious ballroom with the height of two floors. An elegant Serlio-style window to separate the short passage hall from the gorgeous ballroom. There you admired the frescoes by Louis Dorigny. Gigantic mirrors would create optical illusions and stuccoes would frame it all. A gallery for the orchestra was sticking out with a gilded railing swirling in and out with gentle, soft movements as a wave.
You entered the ballroom in Ca’ Zenobio and you forgot the borders between imagination and reality. The trompe l’oeil would confound your perception and you were lost in this phantasy world. Allegories of the arts, music, poetry and mithological stories would sorround you while you wondered about that lady playing the Pan-flute or the dwarf smoking his long pipe up there while you were dancing.
Both the Zenobios and the Rezzonicos moved to Venice quite late. Very wealthy, in the 17th century these families had bought the aristocracy title to finance the Venetian State against the Ottoman Empire and defend the last colonies in the Mediterrenean Sea. The aristocracy “per soldo”, for money, so they were addressed. And now these families were acquiring the ancient patrician homes in Venice and were transforming them in gorgeous mansions. Homes could no longer be just warehouses, or official rooms to welcome the guests, keeping the servants’ quarters upstairs. You needed rooms for casinos, gallant meetings and conversation and, of course, for the parties. This was the major change in the palaces in Venice.
The ballroom in the Labia Palace
Giorgio Massari was a clever architect. Some argue he had already worked for the Labia family, originally from Catalogne, traders of silk and golden textiles, whose palace stood just a few steps away from the Sephardic Jewish ghetto. The Labias had been the first to buy the Golden Book aristocratic title and when renovating their palace in 1734, it was likely Giorgio Massari that ordered to dismantle walls, eliminate the floor between two storeys and create a huge cubic space of 12 meters per side for the ballroom.
Twenty years later Giorgio Massari was asked to do the magic again. The Labia’s ballroom had just been frescoed by Giambattista Tiepolo and the result was spectacular. The story of the last queen of Egypt, Cleopatra, meeting Antonio was seducing all the visitors. There she was, hypnotizing everyone, holding a translucent pearl to melt it in the vinegar while musicians entertained the banquet guests, black young moors ran around holding golden plates and wine among monks, elephants and shimmering silk dresses. Tiepolo was celebrating the classical world encountering exotism.
The ballroom in Ca’ Rezzonico
So Massari had to create an even more spectacular space. He walled up the three large windows of the second noble floor, tore down the ceiling in between the two floors, removed walls on the sides to widen in length the dancing space and added a wide staircase for the guests to rush to their parties with large windows, illuminated by torches at night… And here we are in the most imposing ballroom of Venice. When the Rezzonicos saw the result, they commissioned to Pietro Visconti and Giambattista Crosato the frescoes and chose to celebrate themselves: a huge coat of arms of the family features where the windows had been walled up, columns, porticos as in a Roman villa and Roman mythology claiming ancient origins, and above all the charriot of Apollo, the sun shining among the different continents of the world, Asia, Africa, America and Europe.
The work was ready just before Carlo Rezzonico was elected as Pope in 1758 and chose the name of Clement XIII. Just before Ludovico Rezzonico married Faustina Savorgnan: as she was a member of the ancient Venetian aristocracy, the Rezzonicos eventually lost that title “per soldo” that was certainly not suiting their escalating power.
One last ballroom: the Royal Palace
Finally, there is one more ballroom in Venice that deserves our visit though. Planned in 1822 by Lorenzo Santi, decorated by Giuseppe Borsato in 1837, the Ballroom of the Napoleonic wing or Royal Palace is for sure a very elegant, oval space with the chandeliers and its crystal faceted drops, musicians lodges, marble floors and classical columns. Here the Habsburg empire after defeating Napoleon Bonaparte and conquering Venice had planned their banquets and dancing parties… this time however no more minuets in masked parures, but the strong echoes of the Viennese waltz by Johann Strauss of the new foreign dominator.
by Luisella Romeo
registered tourist guide in Venice, Italy