The history of the palazzo – located in the district of San Polo and overlooking the Grand Canal, halfway between the Rialto Bridge and the volta de Canal (the meandering curve towards the Accademia bridge) – is intertwined with the genealogies of the noble Venetian families of Vendramin and Grimani.
In 1449 Andrea and Luca Vendramin purchased a casa fondaco of Byzantine style, situated in the district of San Polo overlooking the Grand Canal. In 1452 the two brothers divided the property, leaving the house to Andrea, who became doge in 1476. On his death in 1478, the building passed into the hands of his sons Alvise and Paolo, who in 1484 divided the paternal inheritance and in this case the property went to the former. In 1491, on the death of Alvise, the house went to Paolo’s son, Giovanni, who in 1497 married Cecilia Malipiero. Around 1500 work began on the façade, which was completed in 1513, the year in which Giovanni died prematurely. In that year, the building acquired the Renaissance façade that we can still admire today.
The Grimani family made their entry into the history of the building in 1517 with the marriage between Antonio di Girolamo, of the San Polo branch known as Brozza (and later as dei Servi), and Elisabetta Vendramin di Giovanni (da Santa Fosca, niece of Doge Andrea), who brought the building as a dowry. It was with Girolamo, born in 1530 from the marriage of Antonio and Elisabetta, that the branch of the Grimani dell’Albero d’Oro began. They acquired this name because of the ‘purity’ of the family line, which had arrived in Venice in the thirteenth century in the person of its founder Piero, whose son Servodio was among the 300 included in the Serrata del Maggior Consiglio in 1296.
The Grimani dell’Albero d'Oro gave the Republic a doge, Pietro (from 1741 to 1752), formerly ambassador to England in 1710, where he met Isaac Newton and was made an honorary member of the Royal Society. From the first decade of the eighteenth century Pietro Grimani turned the palazzo into a cultural salon, enlivened by Andrea Musalo (a theorist of ‘rigourist’ architecture), from which a circle emerged the unusual figure of the gondolier-poet Antonio Bianchi.
The building remained permanently in the Grimani family’s possession until 1959, following the death of Maria Grimani Giustinian Marcello.
In the 1960s, the palazzo was purchased by the Sorlini family of Brescia, who undertook some major restoration work.
In 2018, Palazzo Vendramin Grimani was acquired by a private property company from Milan, which launched a programme to safeguard the building. Major restoration and preservation work has since restored Palazzo Vendramin Grimani to its former glory.
Today, Palazzo Vendramin Grimani, seat of the Fondazione dell’Albero d’Oro, marks a return to its original function as a cultural salon with an international outlook, a crossroads of exchange and creativity.
Indeed, the historic residence aims not only to be an exhibition space at the beating heart of Venice, but also a place in which cultural exchanges between the city and abroad form the basis for rediscovering an unusual, secret Venice.
The history of the building, which already existed in 1365, can be retraced through a morphological and typological reading of the architectural structure, an analysis of the stratifications and via the various decorative campaigns that followed one another over the centuries.
We start from the pre-existing Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic structure (visible in Jacopo dei Barbari’s perspective map of 1500) to the early and move on to the early sixteenth-century rebuilding commissioned by the Vendramin family, which gave the palazzo its current external appearance. Subsequent acquisitions of adjacent buildings, begun in the second half of the seventeenth century, enlarged the body of the building until, in the eighteenth century, it stretched to the Rio delle Erbe behind it.
The late eighteenth-century period also saw substantial changes to the organisation of the rooms and their decoration, while the nineteenth century saw the further embellishment with frescoes by Giovanni Carlo Bevilacqua, Sebastiano Santi and Giuseppe Borsato, all painted in the 1820s.
The role of the Grimani family is also significant in terms of collecting, in Venice but also further afield. They were the promoters of architectural, sculptural and pictorial undertakings in Venice and in the Republic’s dominions, both on the mainland and overseas. These commissions included the villa and gardens, now demolished, of Fiesso d’Artico on the Riviera del Brenta, the parish church of Masi (Rovigo), and the Badia Benedettina near Korčula in Dalmatia.
In 1799 the Grimani family received a portion of the sizeable holdings – including artworks – of the ‘neighbouring’ Corner di San Polo, following the death of the last male descendant, Giovanni Corner, whose daughter Elisabetta had married Almorò Grimani in 1782.
Despite this addition, the upheavals that followed the fall of the Republic (1797) led to the dispersal of the art collections with Almorò’s death in 1812. The nineteenth and twentieth centuries, however, brought a new revival for the palazzo, with interventions of various kinds that culminated in the restoration of the façade in 1956.