Palazzo and Palazzetto Venezia from "Philipp Dengel, Max Dvorak and Hermann Egger - Der Palazzo di Venezia in Rom - 1909"
The piazza is named after the imposing Palazzo di Venezia, which consists of the large palace, and a smaller one of later date, in the Florentine style. The building was formerly attributed to Giuliano da Majano , but existing documents record that it was erected by Francesco del Borgo di S. Sepolcro (a pupil of Leon Battista Alberti) for Pope Paul II. (1455). The palace was presented in 1564 by Pius IV. to the Republic of Venice, with which it subsequently came into the possession of Austria, and it is still the residence of the Austrian ambassador, as before the cession of Venetia in 1866.
Karl Baedeker - Guide to Central Italy - 1883.
March 1788. A racing horse, in a covering of white linen, closely fitted to the head, neck and body, and adorned with bright ribbons at the seams, is brought in front of the obelisk to the spot whence later on he is to start. He is trained to stand still for some time with his head directed to the Corso. He is now led gently along the street, and at the Venetian Palace is treated to some oats, to make him feel the greater inducement to speed swiftly to that place. (..) Grooms await the arrival of the horses at the Venetian Palace. They contrive to catch and hold them fast in an enclosed place.
J. W. Goethe - Italian Journey - Translation by Charles Nisbet.
The external aspect of Palazzo Venezia did not attract the interest of XVIIIth century travellers and the palace was usually mentioned only in connection with the Carnival horse race which ended at Piazza Venezia and which was discontinued in 1874. Today a visit to the palace which belongs to the Italian State provides an interesting insight on its history, especially on the Renaissance period and an opportunity to see a museum of applied arts.
Bust of Pope Paul II (according to Vasari a work by Vellano Padovano, a pupil of Donatello, but today it is attributed to Mino da Fiesole)
Vellano also took delight in architecture, and was more than passing good in that profession; wherefore, having gone to Rome in the year 1464, at the time of Pope Paul the Venetian, for which Pontiff Giuliano da Maiano was architect in the building of the Vatican, he too was employed in many things; and by his hand, among other works that he made, are the arms of that Pontiff which are seen there with his name beside them. He also wrought many of the ornaments of the Palace of S. Marco for the same Pope, whose head, by the hand of Vellano, is at the top of the staircase. For that building the same man designed a stupendous courtyard, with a commodious and elegant flight of steps, but the death of the Pontiff intervened to hinder the completion of the whole.
Giorgio Vasari - Lives of the most eminent painters, sculptors & architects - transl. by Gaston Du C. De Vere
The history of Palazzo Venezia begins with Cardinal Pietro Barbo (1417-1471), Venetian and nephew of Pope Eugenius IV. In 1450 Barbo became the titular cardinal of Basilica di S. Marco, the church of the Venetian community. At the time the area near the church was scarcely populated and in 1455 the Cardinal began to build a palace for himself next to the Basilica. As soon as he became pope, in 1464, he decided to enlarge his palace, redesign the basilica and add to them a viridarium, a garden surrounded on all sides by an open portico (today's Palazzetto Venezia).
Appartamento Barbo: three marble door frames
The rooms/halls which were completed at the death of Pope Paul II in 1471 are called Appartamento Barbo. They have lost their frescoes and the works of art which decorated them, but the excellence of the marble reliefs of the door frames testifies to the skill of the marmorari (marble cutters) who worked for the Pope. This can be noticed also in the external marble frames of the windows.
Appartamento Barbo: Sala delle Fatiche d'Ercole: two sides of the fresco frieze
The upper register of the frieze with little putti holding festoons may have been carried out during the pontificate of Paul II, that is, before 1471. The lower register which depicts four fountains with cupids at play that alternate with episodes of the life of Hercules is certainly subsequent to the death of the pope, since the pilasters bear the coat of arms of his nephew Cardinal Marco Barbo (1420-1491), who had taken over as titular of the Basilica of San Marco. The Labours of Hercules were seen as a symbol of the triumph of Virtue over Vice and Hercules' death and resurrection as a prefiguration of that of Christ. The last of the episodes shows Hercules killing the centaur Nessus, which is not one of the "Twelve Labours of Hercules", but an event which led to the demigod's death.
At the death of Paul II, in 1471, the great building site was still far from being completed. The task of continuing the work fell to his nephew, whose coats of arms can still be admired today in many parts of the building, including some of the external windows. In particular Cardinal Barbo built three large halls which made Palazzo Venezia an alternative residence to the Vatican. In 1856-1859 Sala Regia, the largest of the three halls was partitioned into smaller rooms by architect AntonÝn Barvitius from Prague, perhaps also as a result of a survey of the structural conditions he carried out in those years. In the 1920s the partitions and other alterations were demolished and the walls of Sala Regia showed evidence of having been initially painted with an illusory architecture. The few surviving fragments were completed with new paintings to recreate the walls original appearance. Ceiling and floor are entirely modern.
Sala del Mappamondo (thus named after a lost Earth globe)
After the death of Cardinal Marco Barbo in 1491 Pope Innocent VIII appointed Cardinal Lorenzo Cybo de Mari, one of his nephews, titular of Basilica di San Marco. Cardinal Cybo completed the decoration of Sala del Mappamondo, the hall which has a central position in the fašade towards Piazza Venezia. The image used as background for this page shows a fresco in this hall which depicts the coat of arms of Pope Innocent VIII and at its sides those of Cardinal Barbo and Cardinal Cybo.
Nicol˛ Duodo, Venetian Ambassador in Rome in 1713-1720 divided Sala del Mappamondo into two distinct rooms, and he had a partition built there, thus obtaining a mezzanine, and finally modified one of the windows, in order to create a small balcony overlooking Piazza Venezia. It was mainly because of this balcony that in 1929 Benito Mussolini chose this hall as his office in order to deliver his speeches to a large audience. The floor mosaics, an imitation of the ancient Roman ones were made in the 1930s.
Courtyard of Palazzetto Venezia
Pope Paul III made some major modifications to the complex of Palazzo Venezia. He was very worried about the defence of Rome and of the papal palaces. He closed the arches of the viridarium turning it into a small fortified palace and he connected it through a passageway (Arco di S. Marco) to a bulky tower he had built in the Franciscan Convent of S. Maria in Aracoeli, similar to the Passetto between the Vatican Palace and Castel Sant'Angelo. Most of Paul III's modifications were lost at the end of the nineteenth century, in line with the rearrangement of Piazza Venezia.
Palazzo Venezia: coats of arms of Francesco Cornaro (left) who was made cardinal in 1537 and of Gasparo Contarini (right) who was made cardinal in 1535
Palazzo Venezia was the residence of the titular cardinals of Basilica di S. Marco, but also of other cardinals of important Venetian families. Caterina Cornaro was the last Queen of Cyprus and in 1489 she bequeathed the island to the Republic of Venice. In 1647 Federico Cornaro, another cardinal of this family, commissioned Bernini a chapel at S. Maria della Vittoria, one of the artist's masterpieces. Cardinal Contarini advised Pope Paul III on the best initiative to restore confidence in the Roman Church after the Lutheran Reformation. Other members of his family held key positions in the Republic of Venice as governors or ambassadors, including that of Doge of the Republic for eight times.
Palazzo Venezia:(left) XVIIIth century fresco depicting the donation of Palazzo Venezia by Pope Pius IV to Giacomo Soranzo, the Venetian ambassador; (right) coat of arms of Zaccaria Canal, Venetian ambassador in 1731 with inscription claiming that he made improvements to the palace
In June 1564 Pope Pius IV donated the building to the Republic on condition that it would pay for its maintenance. The apartments of the palace were to be shared between the Venetian ambassadors and cardinals, a coexistence which was not always an easy one. Giacomo Soranzo, the ambassador to whom the palace was donated set his residence in the Appartamento Barbo, in the large halls over Piazza Venezia and in the Palazzetto. The cardinals had to content themselves with the apartments in the northern part of the palace.
The courtyard of the Palazzetto decorated for a celebration, in an engraving by Filippo Vasconi, 1727
Relations between the Popes and the Republic of Venice at times were very tense because of jurisdiction conflicts, e.g. in 1607 or territorial disputes, e.g. in 1644. At times instead they were very good, e.g. when in 1684 Pope Innocent XI supported the Venetian military effort to conquer the Peloponnese (Morea).
Fountain of Venice's Marriage Of The Sea Ceremony in the Gardens of Palazzo
The 1718 Peace of Passarowitz marked the end of the last war between the Ottoman Empire and the Republic of Venice. The military and economic importance of the Republic declined and the city became mainly famous for its Carnival and ceremonies. In 1730 a fountain depicting a personification of Venice standing on two shells, similar to Bernini's Fontana del Tritone, and dropping a ring into the sea was made by Carlo Monaldi, a sculptor who worked also at the decoration of the Basilica.
Gardens of Palazzo (left) and Palazzetto (right) Venezia by Othmar Brioschi from a family of Italian painters who settled in Vienna in 1838. In 1882, he won a major award that came with a scholarship enabling him to study at Palazzo Venezia for two years
On January 1st, 1798 Palazzo Venezia became the residence of the Austrian ambassador to the Papal State. In 1815 the Congress of Vienna confirmed the Austrian ownership of the palace. Its premises housed also a small number of Austrian young artists, similar to what occurred at the French Academy of Villa Medici.
A phase of profound change began between 1884 and 1888. The palace became a key element in the redefinition of the area of Piazza Venezia, following the construction on its southern side of the Monument to Victor Emmanuel II, based on a project by Giuseppe Sacconi. This led to the demolition of the Tower of Paul III and of the passageway leading to it. In 1897 Sacconi delivered a project aimed at completely redefining Piazza Venezia in order to open up the view of the Monument to those coming along the final stretch of Via del Corso. According to the project the Palazzetto had to be moved right in front of the Basilica of San Marco. Austria, which owned the building, however, raised a series of objections: a stalemate emerged, which was resolved in 1908 when it was agreed to completely rebuild the Palazzetto to the left of the fašade of the Basilica at the expense of Austria. The relocation of Palazzetto Venezia was completed before the 1911 inauguration of the Monument.
Reconstructed courtyard of Palazzetto Venezia (it has one arch less than the original one): (left) well with the coat of arms of Cardinal Barbo; (right) chessboard
At the outbreak of WWI Palazzo Venezia housed the Austrian embassy to the Holy See and because of this it continued to remain in operation. Eventually it was confiscated, but because the Holy See claimed rights on the building it was announced that it would have housed a museum. A decision which was reiterated after WWII to avoid the political use of the palace which was associated with the Fascist period.