Of all major Italian cities, Venice can be one of the most elite, impenetrable and romantic. So when I first heard about a new picture book, Venetian Interiors by Giuseppe Molteni and Roberta Motta (Rizzoli, $75) I assumed it would include some rarities, which, indeed it does.
The common theme for Venetian Interiors is ancient buildings and how they are adapted for modern lives. Most of those are fairly interesting and idiosyncratic since many of the individuals are artists and the buildings storied. The facts about the spaces are woven in lyrical texts for each chapter by Nicoletta del Buono but, like many books produced by a small committee of authors, it can be a bit disjointed. The writing and the photos don’t always synch up perfectly and there are no captions.
Each chapter covers a visit to a different house with a theme that drives its inclusion. A former lumber warehouse in a Baroque palazzo designed in 1654 by Venice’s premier Baroque architect Baldassare Longhera, now converted into an elaborately layered home [top] by fabric artist and set designer Mirella Spinella, is one of the most ornate and fascinating. Because we are left to browse for the most part without a guide, and a certain degree of knowledge about Venetian architectural and cultural history – such as who the Doges were — each chapter is a bit like an archaeological dig where we must do a good deal of discovery on our own. This book might be most easily read with an ipad on the ottoman. One aspect of the Spinella home, is how the beams were restored and cleaned and floors repaired with terra cotta tiles salvaged from neighborhood tear-downs.
Gazing into Ms. Spinella’s dining room, framed by a pair of elaborate screens, we see a collector at heart. Her objects lean to the exotic with abundant fabrics and tapestries, a nod to the heritage of Venice as a center for the production of luxury fabric that began during the Italian Renaissance when the city-state was central to world trade. The website of Luigi Bevilacqua, a Venetian fabric manufacturer, offers a glimpse into the products and style for which Venice is known, including Venetian velvet.
The Palazzo Gradenigo, where novelist Henry James set The Aspern Papers, it still inhabited by a member of the original owners whose material ancestors, Doges were elder magistrates of the Venetian Republic, elected for life by the aristocracy. Many of their portraits adorn the walls of the living room which also features 18th century painted panels, frescos and furniture.
According to google this palazzo has a land entrance and large garden, which are not shown. Instead we glimpse inside the world of the current inhabitant, a 36-year old DJ who put his music studio in one of the most strikingly frescoed rooms – a juxtaposition that speaks to the essential focus of the book but does less, perhaps, for anyone hoping for decorating ideas.
Perhaps my favorite photo is of an entrance hall, which in Venice has the special hybrid quality of a boat house and garage. Note the stone floor and weathered walls. This one, leads to the charming home of Matilde Favetto Rubelli, a home textile brand that includes Bergamo, Donghia and Armani/Casa under its corporate umbrella.
Very much in its favor, Venetian Interiors has a very large format, a lavish number of interior photographs, and many iconic Venetian exteriors and details travelers know and adore. Yet most interesting by far, at least for me, is how the inescapable architecture and peculiarities of this ancient city and its waterways continue to shape the lives of its inhabitants no less today than it did centuries ago.
(Source: © Venetian Interiors, Rizzoli New York, 2012. Images © Giuseppe Molteni, from Venetian Interiors, Rizzoli New York, 2012. Used with permission.)
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