Palazzo Grimani of Santa Maria Formosa is the only dwelling in Venice conceived in the Roman style. This singularity is reflected in the extensions to the former Gothic palazzo, which was originally built in the L-shaped plan typical of Venetian buildings of the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. On the order of the enlightened owner, the patriarch Giovanni, the palazzo was transformed into a Roman domus, complete with peristyle and featuring rooms decorated with frescoes and stuccowork whose like had never before been seen in the region, created by “foreign” artists already active at the court of the popes in the Eternal City.
The old building was acquired at the beginning of the sixteenth century by the doge Antonio, progenitor of the so-called Santa Maria Formosa line of the Grimani. It underwent several transformations and extensions before achieving its current form in the second half of the sixteenth century. The dwelling’s interior decorations were very likely orchestrated by Antonio’s grandsons, the patriarch of Aquileia and his brother, Vettore, to host the celebrated collections. In May 2019 the exhibition Domus Grimani, the collection of classical sculptures reassembled in its original setting after four centuries was opened, thanks to the support of Venetian Heritage, with the aim to relocate the Greek and Roman sculptures to the famous Tribuna after more than four hundred years, and at the same time to promote and take advantage of the state’s existing artistic heritage.
Building on that success, we decided once again to collaborate with the Direzione regionale Musei Veneto MIC, and finance the new exhibition project dedicated to the refitting of the doge’s room, returning to their original location a series of classical sculptures that up to the end of the sixteenth century decorated the walls of this magnificent chamber dedicated to the doge Antonio and devised by Giovanni Grimani.
For this occasion, important restoration and maintenace works have been carried out at the museum, including a new heating and lighting system.
Particularly noteworthy, among the interventions carried out, is the recreation of the original configuration of the Sala di Psiche, a room overlooking Rio di San Severo, included in the new exhibition itinerary.
Around the middle of the last century the Sala di Psiche was split into two rooms by the erection of a wall. In its original form, datable to the 1530s, the ceiling was decorated with five paintings that depicted the story of Cupid and Psyche as told by Apuleius, set in a coffered wooden structure. At the center was placed the octagonal painting executed by Francesco Salviati in 1539, representing Psyche, venerated as a goddess for her beauty. In 2006, the Ministry of Culture acquired on the antique market the canvas attributed to Francesco Salviati, probably an old copy of the lost original. The other paintings, only one of which is known and is now in a private collection, were the work of Francesco Menzocchi.
With the aim of restoring the room to its original form and consolidating the structure of the preexisting wooden ceiling, and in accord with the Ministry of Culture, the incongruous dividing wall has been demolished. During the work, a chimney flue was discovered, located in the middle of the wall that adjoins the Camerino di Apollo and the Camerino di Callisto, revealing the existence of a large fireplace of which all trace had been lost. The only sculptural remnant of the vanished fireplace is the large slab of soft Vicenza stone, found during the consolidation of the masonry, on which a salamander surrounded by flames is carved in relief. The room has now regained its sixteenth-century proportions. It is at last possible to admire without architectural impediments the remains of the frescoes depicting two candelabre with birds and fish, executed by Camillo Mantovano around 1560, very likely using the cartoons for Giovanni da Udine’s celebrated decorations in the Vatican Logge. The octagonal canvas has been placed at the center of the ceiling. In addition, four classical heads from the storerooms of the Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Venezia are on display in the four niches located above the doors of the room.