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Palazzo Grassi

Palazzo Grassi (26)

Standing with the honour of being, chronologically, the last of the grand palaces built before the end of the Republic that turn Venice into the massive catalogue of architecture that it is, the Palazzo Grassi, with its sublime façade covered in white marble, greets the visitor from the Grand Canal.

The Grassi, originally from Chioggia, came to form part of the exclusive club of the Ventian aristocracy at the beginning of the 18th century, when they provided large sums of money to pay for the costly war with the Turks.

Like all families from the new nobility, they needed their own flagship, for which they entrusted the design of their ostentatious residence to the architect Giorgio Massari, author of another grand palace, Ca’ Rezzonico, and of the church of I Gesuati. Decorated with frescos and stuccos by artists such as Michelangelo Morlaiter, Giambattista Tiepolo and Fabio Canal, the building hosts an open-air theatre in the garden.

Unlike the majority of buildings of this type, which are dominated by Venetian Gothic or Baroque forms, Massari chose to give the Grassi residence some classical lines of great perfection. It is estimated that the construction began in the 1740s and was completed around 1772, some years after the death of Massari. The rumour is that the architect was entrusted to include some secret stairs in the project, which would enable lovers free rein to carry out their affairs.

The Palazzo Grassi remained in the hands of the family until 1830, when it began to change from one owner to another. During the following decades it would be a private residence, a hotel and even accommodate some baths.

The most significant change occurred in 1984, when the Italian company FIAT bought the palace and, after a restoration directed by Gae Aulenti and Antonio Foscari, turned it into a centre for cultural activities. Above all else, this recent reconstruction features the priority given to natural light, which floods the inner courtyard through some large windows.

In 2005, the Palazzo Grassi became the property of the French millionaire François Pinault, a well-know art collector. Pinault commissioned the leading Japanese architect Tadao Ando to undertake a new reform, which, although respecting the original spirit of the structure to a large extent, gave the building a minimalist character, and therefore turned it, due to this contrast, into an ideal space for housing Pinault’s contemporary art collections.

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