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#HISTORICALFIGURES The poet gondolier Antonio Bianchi at Palazzo Vendramin Grimani

20 January 2022

The gondolier-poet of doge Pietro Grimani

Antonio Bianchi (1720-?), the 'gondolier poet' in the service of the Grimani dall'Albero d'Oro family, succeeded under the protection of doge Pietro Grimani (1647 - 1734) in becoming an eminent poet of the Serenissima.

His portrait was painted by Bartolomeo Nazari, the most sought-after portrait painter in Venice at the time.

From gondolier to poet

Eighteenth-century Venice was a welcoming island, a source of inspiration for foreigners and a factory for local incentive. It was precisely in this period of cultural ferment that the singular figure of the gondolier poet Antonio Bianchi (1720-?) appeared in the lagoon.

Antonio Bianchi, born in Venice in the first twenty years of the 1700s, went from being a gondolier to an eminent poet of the Serenissima thanks to the farsightedness of his master and protector, doge Pietro Grimani dall'Albero d'Oro (1647 - 1734).

A scholar, man of letters and patron of the arts, Pietro Grimani had great foresight in surrounding himself with intellectuals, artists and aspiring artists, making Palazzo Vendramin Grimani a lively cultural salon. The doge recognised and encouraged the literary aspirations of the gondolier, despite his humble origins. Antonio Bianchi proved to be extremely prolific, composing numerous poems, comedies and dramas for music under the protection of the doge.

Antonio Bianchi's copious literary activity was even the object of controversy on the part of critics who accused the gondolier of being a simple front man for the doge - already a member of the Accademia Letteraria dell'Arcadio under the pseudonym Armiro Elettro.

Antonio Bianchi's rich literary production came to an end in 1772.

The gondolier's son, Pietro Bianchi, still under Grimani's protection, became architect and presented the project for the construction of the Fenice (1792). As we know, the commission entrusted the project to Selva, but Bianchi received the prize money anyway. Pietro Bianchi was perhaps the last person to renovate Palazzo Vendramin Grimani: he built the Grimani bridge leading to the Grimani branch and divided the ballroom into several rooms.