Project Description

Three painted-wood entrance hall benches, 18th century
Palazzo Contarini at San Beneto, Venice

Restoration of three monumental painted-wood benches

Palazzo Contarini at San Beneto, Venice

Project Director
Ministry of Culture, Monuments and Fine Arts
Office of Venice

Giovanna Menegazzi e
Roberto Bergamaschi s.n.c., Venice

Davines S.p.A.
Venetian Heritage

The project is included in the framework of the UNESCO – International Private Committees Joint Programme for the Safeguarding of Venice

Start date
August 2014

End date
May 2015

82.610,00 €

The most generous genealogists trace the origins of the Contarini to the Aurelia Cotta people of Rome, who, having obtained the prefecture of the Rhine, were then called Cotta-Reni, or possibly Conti del Reno, later becoming Contarini. Marco Contarini was certainly one of the twelve citizens who elected the first doge in 697, making them one of the so-called “apostolic” families. The Contarini can claim to have given the Serenissima eight doges. Over the centuries they split into eighteen distinct branches. The founder of the Contarini di San Beneto family was a certain Beneto, who lived at the beginning of the 15th. His grandson Domenico was one of the most celebrated Venetian generals, and his grandsons probably rebuilt the Palazzo Contarini in its present form. In 1527 he obtained the fleur-de-lys from Francis I of France, which this branch of Contarini then quartered in their coat of arms. The architecture of the building is traditionally attributed to Sante Lombardo, son of the master sculptor Tullio. The fine façade on the narrow Rio di San Luca is completely clad in Istrian stone with incrustations of colored marble. In 1658 Domenico Contarini was elected the 104th doge of Venice. The mansion was constantly enriched with important works of art and its 16th-century structure remained mostly unaltered. In 1748 the palazzo was completely redecorated by the best artists of the time to celebrate the wedding of Giulio Contarini and Eleonora Morosini. The piano nobile is perhaps the most complete example of a mid-eighteenth-century Venetian residence. Everything is in Louis XV style, from the fabulous Venetian floors to the doors with their original “hardware”, the stuccoes by Carpoforo Mazzetti Tencalla, and the frescoes by Fontebasso, Diziani, and Brusaferro.
The three monumental entrance hall benches were decorated by these painters’ assistants. Unique in terms of their size and pictorial quality, they feature the coats of arms of the Contarini di San Beneto and the Morosini di Santo Stefano inside architectural trompe-l’oeil. The decorations, in oil on wood, were painted during the decoration of the palazzo in 1748. The benches were probably originally in the entrance hall and later moved to the courtyard loggia where they were exposed to pollutants and flooding. They were thus in very poor condition, with the widespread lifting of the paint film, various repairs, and heavy, inconsistent coats of varnish. The restoration allowed these extraordinary 18th-century benches to be returned to their original grandeur.
Ca’ Contarini at San Benito has been bought by the City of Venice.