The Royal Rooms at Museo Correr – The Royal Palace in Venice
Venice rediscovers its Royal Palace. And an important part of its history.
From 15 July 2022, after a twenty-year restoration, the twenty rooms of the Royal Palace are finally open to the public all together. These are the private apartments of kings and queens of three different royal houses: the Bonapartes, the Habsburgs and the Savoy.
These spaces, part of a new itinerary of the Museo Correr, in St Mark’s Square, are now “returned to the city” as said by Gabriella Belli, director of the Civic Museums of Venice.
The great scientific recovery project, which began in 2000, was led by the Civic Museums Foundation and the Municipality of Venice, with the support of the Italian Art Superintendency. Furthermore, the support of the French Committee for the Safeguard of Venice and of private patrons from all over the world was fundamental for the success of the recovery.
The restoration has set itself an important goal: to shed light on the 19th century in Venice. The nineteenth century, in fact, has often been considered a period of decline both for the history of the city and for its artistic primacy. The construction of the Royal Palace, on the other hand, with its neoclassical architecture and marvelous interior decorations, would like to prove the opposite.
A bit of history. The complex was started by Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century. An urban-scale project that has changed the very heart of Venice, Piazza San Marco. A few years earlier, in 1797, the Emperor of the French ended the millennial history of the Serenissima Republic by forcing it to surrender.
The Royal Palace is composed of two distinct parts, one already existing and modified, and a new one, built from scratch. The existing part is named Procuratie Nuove, the original lodgings of the Procurators of the Republic, built by Vincenzo Scamozzi and Baldassarre Longhena between the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. The new part, the Napoleonic Wing, closes St Mark’s Square to the west, in front of the Basilica. To build this part, from 1807, it was necessary to demolish the church of San Geminiano, renovated by Jacopo Sansovino in the second half of the sixteenth century.
Beyond the Procuratie Nuove then, in the area overlooking the San Marco Basin, they created the Royal Gardens, the largest green area in the city center, which have also been recently restored (2021).
The Royal Rooms
The royal apartments are located right in this part of the complex, overlooking the Gardens, the island of San Giorgio and the Giudecca canal.
The decoration and furnishing works lasted, in alternating phases, throughout the century and beyond. The Venetian masters had to indulge the changing and sometimes capricious tastes of archdukes, princesses, kings and emperors who followed one another.
The first stylistic imprint was given by the Venetian painter and ornatist Giuseppe Borsato and his young assistants from the Venice Academy. Among these, the best known is probably Francesco Hayez, the future author of famous paintings such as “The Kiss“, and who at the time was learning the trade. At that time, the commissioning of the building was represented by Napoleon himself and Eugene of Beauharnais, viceroy of Italy.
The second phase of the works took place at the time of the Lombard-Veneto Kingdom, led by the Habsburgs of Austria. In this period, among other things, the great neoclassical Ballroom and the extraordinary Moresca Hall were built. This room is decorated entirely with an intricate geometric motif of Arab and Islamic inspiration. A memory of arabesques, muqarnas and mashrabiyya that the Archduke Maximilian of Habsburg, the future emperor of Mexico, had brought to Venice from his travels in Turkey and Egypt.
The rooms for the Venetian stay of Emperor Franz Joseph and his wife Elisabetta, the “Princess Sissi“, were also created under the Habsburgs.
After the union of Venice to the Kingdom of Italy, in 1866, the works continued. A new royal apartment was built for Vittorio Emanuele II, later used by the other couples of the House of Savoy, Umberto I and Margherita, and Elena and Vittorio Emanuele III. Every sovereign, however, has always changed or added something.
Since 1920 the Royal Palace has no longer hosted kings and queens. In the last century, part of the complex has been dedicated to the Museo Correr, and the remaining spaces have been used as offices by various state administrations.
Only starting from the new millennium, the old royal rooms were gradually reconquered by the museum, proceeding with a long, laborious and very precise restoration work. In 2012 the first nine rooms were reopened to the public, and in 2022 the recovery of the last eleven rooms was completed.
A century of Venetian art returned to the city
The return to Venice of the Royal Palace and a century of history is an event of great importance. Especially in this historical period marked by the pandemic and closures. And even more important, perhaps, in view of the changes planned for the city. The Municipality of Venice is planning, shortly, to limit access to the city.
To stroll through the canals, it will therefore be necessary to book and, in most cases, to pay a ticket. Even the visit to the Royal Rooms, then, will be more complex and burdensome for all citizens of the world. For those who are thinking of going to admire the beauties from the lagoon, it will be better to hurry!