Friday, January 31, 2020

Italy | Venice | Ca’ Rezzonico

Wandered by the Ca’ Rezzonico on the Grand Canal. The palazzo dates back to the 1660s, although it did not achieve its present look until the 1750s. The original owner went bankrupt trying to complete it. After changing hands several times it was bought in the 1880s by Robert “Pen” Barrett Browning, son of Victorian poets Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, with money from his American heiress wife Fannie Coddington, who was said to be enthralled by the elder Brownings, famous poets that they were, but by Pen not so much. He won her hand and dollars only after a fourteen-year courtship. Pen cut a somewhat ambiguous figure. According to one recent author, “Pen Browning was destined to spend his adult life watching people register the thought, ‘That’s what those two poetic geniuses produced?’ but his parents considered him a marvel of aesthetic discernment and religious piety.” The American author and Venetomaniac Henry James, who knew Pen and his father personally and attended poetry reading at the palazzo, weighted in with this:
[The palazzo is] altogether royal and imperial—but ‘Pen’ isn’t kingly and the train de vie remains to be seen. Gondoliers ushering in friends from pensions won’t fill it out . . . There seems but one way to be sane in this queer world—but there are so many ways of being mad. And a Palazzo-madness is almost as alarming—or as convulsive—as an earthquake—which indeed it essentially resembles.”
Pen’s famous father died here on December 12, 1889. Later Pen was accused of having an affair with a blonde Italian bombshell by the name of Minerva who he had introduced into the household as a housekeeper-cum-model (he dabbled in painting and sculpture). He also installed a menagerie of birds, snakes, and other wildlife. The palazzo had turned into a zoo, both literally and figuratively. Fanny finally got fed up and fled with her dollars, but the two never divorced. Pen sold the Ca’ Rezzonico in 1206 and retired to Asolo, the famous hill town on the mainland, where he died on July 8, 1912. 

The new owners let out the palazzo to, among others, the American composer and entertainer Cole Porter, who rented it in the mid-1920s for $4000 a month, $58,500 a month in today’s money. It was here that he held his notorious bacchanalias that shocked locals and bedazzled the ex-pat community. One frequent guest at his parties was Ada Beatrice Queen Victoria Louise Virginia Smith, a.k.a “Bricktop”(due to her red hair), a half-black-half-Irish jazz singer, dancer, and nightclub owner born in a small town in West Virginia who had washed up in Paris, where Porter met her in a nightclub and invited her to the Ca’ Rezzonico to teach his other guests the Charleston, the latest dance craze from them States.  The palazzo is now a museum and the visitants are much more sedate.
Ca’ Rezzonico (click on photos for enlargements)
Plaque commemorating Robert Browning’s death at Ca’ Rezzonico. It includes the famous line from one of his poems: Open my heart and you will see graved inside of it ‘Italy’.
Ca’ Rezzonico
The Grand Canal from the front of Ca’ Rezzonico
On the top floor of the palazzo is a gallery full of titillating paintings by Venetian artists. No museum in Venice can match it for the sheer amount of mammaries on display. This is just a sampling:

Nightmare date?
The word “louche” springs to mind
What’s going on with the asp?
Some guys have all the luck . . .
You can’t help but envy the little fella
Redheads. What can you say?
Call SVU!
Nice bellybutton!
The guy on the right is obviously a satyr, but what’s with the little cherub on the left?
Aphrodite (a.k.a. Venus) emerging from her clam shell. I was especially intrigued by this painting, since I have visited Aphrodite’s birthplace on Cyprus Island.

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