Project Description

Entrance Hall Benches of Palazzo Contarini at San Beneto Restored by Venetian Heritage with the support of Davines 

Curated by Toto Bergamo Rossi

Museo di Ca’ Rezzonico, Venice
May – December 2015

Promoted by:
Ministero della Cultura – Direzione Regionale Musei Veneto
Venetian Heritage

Davines S.p.A.
Venetian Heritage

The Contarini family boasts the distinction of having produced a total of eight doges for the Most Serene Republic of Venice. Over the centuries, they branched into eighteen distinct lines. The progenitor of the Contarini family of San Beneto was a man named Beneto, who lived in the early 1400s. His nephew, Domenico, became one of the most celebrated generals of the Most Serene Republic, and it is likely due to his descendants that the palace was reconstructed in its current form. In 1527, Domenico received fleurs-de-lis from King Francis I of France, which were later incorporated into the coat of arms of the Contarini branch.
The architecture of Palazzo Contarini in San Beneto is traditionally attributed to Sante Lombardo, the son of the renowned Tullio Lombardo. The beautiful façade facing the narrow canal of San Luca is entirely clad in Istrian stone with inlaid polychrome marbles. In 1658, Domenico Contarini was elected the one hundred fourth Doge of the Republic of Venice. The residence continued to accumulate significant works of art while maintaining its nearly unaltered 16th-century structure. In 1748, the palace underwent a complete redecoration by the finest artists of the era to celebrate the marriage between Giulio Contarini and Eleonora Morosini. The noble floor is perhaps the most intact example of a Venetian dwelling from the mid-18th century. Everything is in the Louis XV style, from the fabulous Venetian terrazzo floors to the doors with original hardware, to the stuccoes by Carpoforo Mazzetti Tencalla, to the frescoes by Fontebasso, Diziani, and Brusaferro.
The execution of the three entrance hall benches, unique in their size and pictorial quality, depicting trompe-l’oeil architectural elements and the coats of arms of the Contarini of San Beneto and the Morosini of Santo Stefano, can be attributed to the skilled hands of the aforementioned painters. The oil-painted decoration on wood panel was undoubtedly carried out during the palace’s modernization in 1748.

The benches, restored by Venetian Heritage with generous funding from Davines, were likely originally located in the building’s atrium and were later moved under the courtyard’s loggia, thus exposed to the elements. As a result, the benches were in poor condition, with widespread lifting of the painted surface, various repairs, and heavy, inconsistent overpainting. The restoration has returned these extraordinary 18th-century furnishings to their former splendor.

Only one of the three benches was displayed in the Ca’ Rezzonico museum.