Just off Campo Santa Maria Formosa, one of Venice’s largest and liveliest squares, sit two of the city’s finest yet surprisingly under-visited museums.
The first is the 16th century Palazzo Querini Stampalia, which until 19th March is showing an exhibition of powerful paintings by Titina Masselli (1924-2005) – a remarkable Italian artist whose career was spent in the passionate pursuit of capturing the spirit of modernity on canvas. From her early life in Rome, where she was captivated by scenes of urban destruction after the bombing of WW2, to her years spent in the vibrant international metropolises of New York and Paris, Masselli continued to depict scenes of contemporary city life – painted with high-pitched colours, fierce gestural marks and an urgent sense of impassioned, explosive energy. Featuring around thirty works spanning her long career, with subjects ranging from soaring skyscrapers to crowded sports stadiums and speeding trains, this superb exhibition reveals Masselli as one of the most original and arguably underrated Italian artists of the twentieth century.
Elsewhere in the building, on the serene piano nobile, you’ll find a series of richly decorated period rooms once lived in by the Querini-Stampalia family – one of the oldest, and at one time wealthiest, dynasties in Venice. Bequeathed to the city in 1869 by Count Giovanni Querini, the museum contains an important collection of furniture, fabrics, sculptures and over 400 paintings, with highlights including a series of 18th century views of Venetian life by Gabriel Bella and one of Giovanni Bellini’s most celebrated works, The Presentation of Christ in the Temple. Downstairs on the ground-floor, by way of total contrast, lies a series of rooms designed in the 1960s by the celebrated Italian architect Carlo Scarpa – considered to be one his most elegant and successful works, and a must-see for any fans of modernist architecture.
Just a few minutes’ walk from the Museo della Fondazione Querini Stampalia, with a monumental entrance just off the Ruga Giuffa, you can also visit the magnificent Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa – originally the residence of Doge Antonio Grimani. Based around a courtyard that was modelled on the peristyle of an ancient Roman home, the palace was designed to house the Grimani family’s extensive collection of Graeco-Roman antiquities – a number of which remain on display, including a splendid second century Roman sculpture of Ganymede and Eagle, suspended dramatically from the ceiling of the Tribuna. Elsewhere in the palazzo, numerous rooms decorated with frescoes consciously recall the glories of ancient Rome, depicting fanciful grotesques, mythological scenes and – in the especially memorable Sala ai Fogliami – a vast ceiling completely covered with thick foliage and trees full of exquisitely-rendered birds and wildlife.
The palazzo hosts a regular programme of temporary exhibitions, while itsbeautiful interiors and permanent art collection – including works by Giorgione and Hieronymus Bosch – are certainly reason enough to visit at any time of year.