Tour a Secret Venetian Palazzo and Garden

April 21, 2014 by

palazzo_malipiero_-from-canal-haupt-binderPhoto: Haupt and Binder.

From the street, one would never guess that hidden behind centuries old plaster walls and a set of wooden doors marked 3201, there stood a magnificent narrative of Venetian history, art, and culture.

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Pass through the entrance and you step back centuries into the Palazzo Capello Malipiero Barnabò, the Countess Anna Barnabò’s sumptuous antique-filled palace with verdant gardens that spill onto Venice’s Grand Canal. Not normally open to the public, I got a taste of that life on a private tour of this secret Venetian palace led by local guide Cristina Gregorin of Slow Venice.

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Originally built between the 10th and 11th centuries as the Cà Grande of Saint Samuel by the Soranzo family, throughout the centuries the palazzo withstood a number of subsequent additions and modifications by the Capello family, followed later by the Malipieros. Purchased in the late 19th century by its current owners, the Barnabòs,  the palace underwent a major renovation in 1951 which restored it to its eighteenth-century grandeur.

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Palazzo Capello Malipiero Barnabò became home to the contessa when she married into the venerable and influential Venice family more than 30 years ago. Anna Barnabò occupies the palace’s third floor, an expansive space which includes an enormous drawing room with a frescoed ceiling ceiling from which hangs a massive Murano glass chandelier.

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The chandelier crystal refracted the light from the afternoon sun that poured in through the canal-facing Venetian Byzantine arched windows and casted shadows around the room.

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From the drawing room, we entered the adjacent library where the contessa reads and enjoys her favorite shows on television, an item that seemed out of place surrounded by such ornate decor. Another impressive Murano chandelier dripped afternoon light from the ceiling casting shadows about the room. The palazzo’s dining room was not impressively large (am I jaded already?) yet it contained a number of important antique pieces, including a ceramic Buddha, below, whose head rocked back and forth when you tapped his hand.

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Through the windows in a long hallway connecting the drawing room to the dining room, I got my first glimpse of the Palazzo gardens below.

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Centuries old antiques and fabulous artifacts aside, the real magic began as I descended those ancient stairs and passed through the courtyard into the garden.

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We accessed the gardens through an elegant massive set of doors whose leaded glass transom was emblazoned with a decorative scrolled Barnabò “B” monogram.

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Created at the end of the eighteenth century, Palazzo Malipiero’s gardens occupy a large parcel on the Campo San Samuele. The property sits beside French businessman and art collector François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi, a contemporary art exhibition space which I visited last summer during Biennale. A central walkway between two symmetrical hedge-bordered ornamental gardens form a straight site line from the back of the palazzo’s garden to the canal.

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I had the honor of speaking privately with the elegant contessa about the gardens and learned that she had designed them. (She said her English was not great, and although my Italian had improved after a few days and several glasses of wine, it was not as fluent as my French which the Countess spoke quite well.) The gardens, she told me, are one the her prized personal endeavors.

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When she first became the lady of the house, the contessa knew very little about gardening. This did not stop the adventurous former correspondent for the European press. Her keen interest in history, art, and color led her to learn all she needed to design the gardens, now featured in numerous books such The Gardens of Venice and Veneto, photographed by Alex Ramsay.

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Under the her direction, a gardener now maintains the lush grounds where the she hosts parties and elegant dinners, sometimes for her neighbor Pinault’s art openings.

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As we walked the gardens together, the contessa described her colorful and well-traveled life before and after marrying the late Count Barnabò–first as a child living with her family in Paris, then later as a journalist living in Rome. On a stroll alongside the flower beds, she pointed out with obvious pride what would soon be in bloom: pink camellias and little white roses on one side, blue irises and soft pink baby roses that would eventually line the garden’s canal frontage. Walls of hydrangeas were just beginning to sprout little buds, while jasmine would scent the air soon after my departure. And although I’d seen massive amounts of gorgeous wisteria everywhere in Venice, somehow seeing its rich hue here against the backdrop of the intense terra cotta walls…well, sigh.

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In addition to numerous perfectly placed sculptures, a large water well sculpted with the family coat-of-arms, she explained, was moved from the courtyard to the garden for the wedding uniting the Cappello and the Malipiero families.

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The contessa motioned toward the water where centuries ago Elisabetta, the bride, and Caterino, the groom, took their vows overlooking the Grand Canal. I could almost hear the music and see the guests in the their festive attire celebrating the newlyweds in what must have been one hell of a garden wedding.

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You Can Live Like Royalty
You too may live like royalty for a bit at the Palazzo Malipiero. After I returned from Venice, I found out that several of the Palazzo’s apartments are for short term rental. One, a beautifully furnished 2-bedroom, 2-bath canal front attic apartment can be yours for $356 per night, $1991 for the week, or $3698 for a month via airbnb, below, and still others on the Palazzo website.

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If you go, please give my regards to the contessa.

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Next up: My reports from Milan Design Week, Salone del Mobile, FuoriSalone–including a day at Ventura Lambrate–and much more!

Nota Bene: My trip to Venice as part of the Modenus BlogTour was made possible by the generosity of the following sponsors: Modenus, BLANCO, Clever Storage by Kessenbömer, Dekton by Cosentino, National Kitchen and Bath Association (NKBA), and Gessi. All opinions expressed herein are uniquely mine and not indicative of any sponsor opinions or positions.

Unless otherwise noted, all images by Robin Plaskoff Horton for Urban Gardens.

11 Comments »

  1. hazel said:

    Great pictures, Robin. Wish I had been there

    — April 22, 2014 @ 09:16

  2. Robin Horton said:

    Hazel, it was an amazing trip that brought me home with so much to share! Stay tuned!

    — April 22, 2014 @ 11:33

  3. Laurin Ravenscourt said:

    How lovely to have a private garden like this! I would love to have tea in the garden with the Contessa and here about her garden : ) Thank you for the beautiful tour!!!

    — April 22, 2014 @ 14:34

  4. Robin Horton said:

    Glad you enjoyed the post Laurin! I too would have loved to spend more time with the Contessa in the garden. My cuppa tea. 🙂

    — April 22, 2014 @ 16:29

  5. Erika said:

    Wow how beautiful & surreal , especially with all the history there, I would have been in a dream state! Wonderful tour thank you, ~E

    — June 29, 2014 @ 15:38

  6. clever storage ideas include kitchen herb garden Pingback said:

    […] Italian design adventure began with a few days in Venice where we absorbed the history and culture, visited a private palace and garden, sampled great food […]

    — August 11, 2014 @ 17:33

  7. Seasons Greenings! - Urban Gardens Pingback said:

    […] Gardens traveled the world in 2014–to palace gardens in Venice and to Milan Design Week in search of cool things to share. More good stuff to come in 2015 as I […]

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  8. JOSEPHINE SPITERI said:

    WE WERE THERE ABOUT 10YRS.AGO,AWESOME!MAMMA MIA THAT MORANO CHANDALLIER,THE BUILDING IS VERY COMMON TO OUR MALTESE

    — June 2, 2015 @ 15:47

  9. alicia said:

    Muy bellas fotos gracias URBAN GARDENS

    — October 6, 2015 @ 10:25

  10. Outdoor Art Installation Doubles as Exercise Equipment at Milan Botanical Garden Pingback said:

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  11. canal cruise from London's "Little Venice" to Camden Lock Market Pingback said:

    […] For a different canal experience, on the Grand Canal in the real Venice, see this post about my private tour of an Italian Countess’s waterfront palace and gardens. […]

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