Palazzo Labia

Palazzo Labia (16)

This palace, owned by the Italian public television company, the RAI, is a lavish example of Baroque architecture situated at the confluence of the Cannaregio Canal and the Grand Canal. One of the main peculiarities that distinguishes the Palazzo Labia from the majority of these buildings is the fact that it has several impressive façades. To the main one, which faces the Cannaregio, we should add that of the Grand Canal and the one that can be seen from Campo San Geremia. 

Built by the Labias, a family of Catalan merchants who had arrived in the city in 1646 and who had paid a large sum of money in order to form part of its powerful patriarchy, the building was erected in the early 18th century by two relatively unknown architects, Andrea Cominelli and Alessandro Tremignon. 

The authors decided to break with the ruling model for palaces, clearly exemplified in the work of Baldassare Longhena, and designed a much less cluttered model of building. With five floors, the importance is shared amongst its three façades. Those facing the canal evoke classical lines, although they are clearly inscribed in Baroque, whereas the façade facing the campo shows a hint of florid Venetian Gothic. 

The need to show off before Venetian society is symbolised by the main attraction of this palace: the grand ballroom. The artists entrusted with the magnificent frescos decorating the ceiling was Giambattista Tiepolo. Inspired by scenes from the life of Cleopatra, the painter articulated a magnificent series set in the city of Venice that extols the tremendous power of the Labia family. Other authors who worked on the decoration of the different rooms were Gerolamo Mengozzi-Colonna and Pompeo Batoni.

Although the palace remained in the hands of the family until the end of the Serenissima Republic, in 1797, like many of the large residences of the Venetian aristocracy, the Palazzo Labia went through a period of decadence during which it had many owners.

Its former glory was returned to it in the 20th century, when it was acquired by the Mexican oil magnate Carlos de Beistegui. The new owner took on the job of acquiring furnishings and works of art that returned to the building a major part of its original splendour.

Coinciding with the Venice Film Festival in 1951, some people argue that the best festival of the century was held there. Dressed up in 18th-century costumes designed by Pierre Cardin, burning the midnight oil all night in the grand ballroom were figures of the category of Winston Churchill, Orson Welles and Salvador Dalí. There are photos by Cecil Beaton that document the memorable event.

After a millionaire auction, in 1964 the RAI bought the building and subjected it to a thorough restoration, for which a deployment of cutting-edge technology was used. Today, the first floor is used for holding congresses, cultural acts and gala suppers, while the other rooms are used as studios and offices for the Venetian branch of the public radio and television company.

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