Palazzo Venier dei Leoni was
probably begun in the 1750s by architect Lorenzo Boschetti,
whose only other known building in Venice is the church
of San Barnaba.
It is an unfinished palace. A model exists in the Museo
Correr, Venice (1).
Its magnificent classical façade would have matched
that of Palazzo Corner, opposite, with the triple arch
of the ground floor (which is the explanation of the
ivy-covered pillars visible today) extended through
both the piani nobili above. We do not know precisely
why this Venier palace was left unfinished. Money may
have run out, or some say that the powerful Corner family
living opposite blocked the completion of a building
that would have been grander than their own. Another
explanation may rest with the unhappy fate of the next
door Gothic palace which was demolished in the early
19th century: structural damage to this was blamed in
part on the deep foundations of Palazzo Venier dei Leoni.
Nor is it known how the palace came to be associated
with "leoni," lions. Although it is said that
a lion was once kept in the garden, the name is more
likely to have arisen from the yawning lion's heads
of Istrian stone which decorate the façade at
Venier family, who claimed descent from the gens Aurelia
of ancient Rome (the Emperor Valerian and Gallienus
were from this family), were among the oldest Venetian
noble families. Over the centuries they provided eighteen
Procurators of St Mark’s and three Doges. Antonio
Venier (Doge, 1382-1400) had such a strong sense of
justice that he allowed his own son to languish and
die in prison for his crimes. Francesco Venier (Doge,
1553-56) was the subject of a superb portrait by Titian
(Madrid, Fundaciòn Thyssen-Bornemisza). Sebastiano
Venier was a commander of the Venetian fleet at the
Battle of Lepanto (1571) and later became Doge (1577-78).
A lively strutting statue of him, by Antonio dal Zotto
(1907), can be seen today in the church of Ss. Giovanni
e Paolo, Venice.
From 1910 to c. 1924 the house was owned by the flamboyant
Marchesa Luisa Casati, hostess to the Ballets Russes,
and the subject of numerous portraits by artists as
various as Boldini, Troubetzkoy, Man Ray and Augustus
John. In 1949, Peggy Guggenheim purchased Palazzo Venier
from the heirs of Viscountes Castlerosse and made it
her home for the following thirty years. Early in 1951,
Peggy Guggenheim opened her home and collection to the
public and continued to do so every year until her death
In 1980, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection opened for the first time under the management of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, to which Peggy Guggenheim had given her palazzo and collection during her lifetime.
Palazzo Venier dei Leoni's long low façade, made
of Istrian stone and set off against the trees in the
garden behind that soften its lines, forms a welcome
"caesura" in the stately march of Grand Canal
palaces from the Accademia to the Salute.