Palazzo Foscari

Coordinates: 45°26′04″N 12°19′36″E / 45.434464°N 12.326564°E / 45.434464; 12.326564

Ca' Foscari, the palace of the Foscari family, is a Gothic building on the waterfront of the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy. Built by the doge Francesco Foscari in 1453, is now the main seat of Ca' Foscari University of Venice.

The architect of the palace was Bartolomeo Bon.

The House with the two Towers

The current building is not the original one: the previous building on the site was a Byzantine palace known as the "House with the two Towers", which was bought by the Republic of Venice in 1429 from Bernardo Giustinian, in order to make it the residence of the vice-captain of the Republic, Gianfrancesco Gonzaga; at that time the palace looked very different from now: it was made of 2 towers and a lower central block. As Gonzaga perhaps never lived there, the palace was used to give hospitality to illustrious guests of the Republic, including kings and diplomats. In 1439 the House of the two Towers was given to another captain, Francesco Sforza. The palace was always considered as the headquarters of the Venetian Republic, also because it could be easily approached by the Bucintoro. In 1447 Francesco Sforza betrayed the Republic and he was deprived of the residence.

In 1453 the Republic of Venice regained possession of the palace and sold it by auction to the Doge of the time, Francesco Foscari; he had the palace destroyed and rebuilt in late Venetian gothic style; the building was chosen by the doge for its position on the Grand Canal. Foscari immediately set about rebuilding the palace in a manner befitting his station: he moved the site of the new palace forward on to the bank of the Grand Canal. Buying and rebuilding the palace for himself meant for the doge affirming his political and military role: he actually represented the continuity of the military successes of that period, lasted 30 years, and was the promoter of the Venetian expansion on mainland. The huge new palace, can hardly have been finished when Foscari was disgraced in 1457 and retired to his new home to end his days.

Architectural features

Ca' Foscari is a typical example of the residence of the Venetian nobles and merchants. The ground floor was used as storeroom; the first and second floors were used as residence and place for parties and they are called "piani nobili" .The central arcades of the second floor are closely modelled on the façade loggia of the Doge's Palace. The great central window arcades light the huge halls behind, flanked by side wings of smaller rooms lit by single windows. The structure is one of the most imposing buildings of the city and its external courtyard is the biggest courtyard of a private house after the one of the Doge's Palace. The main entrance was the one on the canal because commerce on water was the most important activity in Venice and because the main routes were on water; that's why the façade on the water side is always more beautiful and decorated than the one on the street. This façade overlooking the Grand Canal is characterized by a rhythmic sequence of arches and windows; this style, emulated throughout the city, can be identified through its use of pointed arches and carved window heads. On the top of every single column we can find the quatrefoil patterns; the gothic capitals are adorned with foliage, animals and faces. On the top of the gothic window there's also a marble frieze with a helmet surmounted with a spread lion which reminds the role of the doge as the captain of the republic; at each side of the central helmet we can find two putti holding a shield which represents the Foscari's coat of arms with the winged lion, symbol of Venice.

Differences between the House with the two Towers and Ca' Foscari

The practical function of Venetian palaces was different from the other Italian cities. The nobility did not earn their living from landowning as in other Italian city states at this period but from seafaring and trade. As a result their "fondaco" houses had to serve not only as residences but also as the headquarters for their trading ventures. The main features of these early palaces was the two-storey arcade along the waterfront, with the ground-floor portico for loading and unloading merchandise. The portico led into a great hall used for displaying armour and for business negotiations, with storerooms and offices on either side and a kitchen at the back. The living quarters were upstairs, with the rooms leading off great T-shaped central room; a well and an open staircase were placed in the courtyard. There where low towers at each end of the façade. The House of the two Towers too used to have this structure, before Francesco Foscari decided to destroy it and rebuild it in Gothic style.

The portal

The portal of Ca' Foscari is today the main entrance of the building and has been restored in 2008 by young graduated in the local university.

The portal is made of Istrian marble; of rectangular shape, it is surmounted by a lunette; on its perimeter it is decorated with chequered patterns. The coat of arms inside the lunette is composed of a central blazon and three putti (two at each side and one on the top); inside the blazon there is the winged lion of St. Mark holding an open book.

In 1797, with the arrival of Napoleon I, the families' blazons were abolished, so they were hidden or taken off. Often the blazons were covered with a coat of whitewash, such as in the case of the coat of arms of this portal.

The entrance hall

The entrance hall was restored in 1936 by the great Italian architect Carlo Scarpa. On that occasion Scarpa designed:

  • the glass wall entrance, which reminds the window of the great hall on the second floor;
  • the benches (with the typical T-shape pattern present in other works by Carlo Scarpa);
  • the handrail of the nineteenth-century stairway;
  • the lamps
The view on the Grand Canal

Ca' Foscari palace is located on the widest bend of the Grand Canal, where during the Historical Regatta a floating wooden structure known as la machina is placed (on this structure the Venetian authorities sit and look at the race); this also the spot where the arrival line is set and where the prize-giving takes place.

Mario Baratto Hall

The great hall dedicated to Mario Baratto (a professor of Italian literature and antifascist, who died in 1984) is situated on the second floor (the piano nobile) of the palace. The most relevant features of the rooms are represented by:

  • the interventions made by Carlo Scarpa (the window, the boiserie and the footboard);
  • the two frescos painted by Mario Sironi e Mario Deluigi, which date back to 1936-1937;
  • the view on the largest bend of the Grand Canal.

In 1979 a fire destroyed part of the room and consequently the architect Valeriano Pastor restored the room and the boiserie. In 2004 the room was restored once more, this time as part of the general restoration of the entire building. The craftsmen who had worked with Carlo Scarpa were called upon for the restoration of the boiserie and it was on this occasion that the chairs now present in the room were made.

Interventions by Carlo Scarpa

In 1936 Carlo Scarpa restored various parts of the university, including the great hall.

In 1956 Scarpa was asked to return to Ca' Foscari to transform the great hall into a lecture hall, and on this occasion he created the boiserie.

In 1936 Carlo Scarpa was commissioned by Agostino Lanzillo (the rector of the University at that time) to restore various parts of the university, including the great hall. Before the intervention of the architect, the space now occupied by the great hall was used to house a museum of the Faculty of Economics.

Scarpa's project for the great hall included:

  • the window frame (made of glass and wood) in front of the 15th century gothic window (polifora);
  • the wooden platform with the slab of marble with a Latin inscription and the two pedestals;
  • the wooden tribune;
  • the marble portal with a Latin inscription.

In 1956 Carlo Scarpa was asked to return to Ca' Foscari to transform the great hall into a lecture hall.

Scarpa removed the student tribune and realized the boiserie , using part of the same wood employed for the student gallery; the boiserie is both a connection and a separation between the room and the corridor; its sliding cloth-covered frames are used to conceal the room and when they're closed they remind the ogive of the gothic window. The image of the gothic window is mirrored on the glass of the boiserie, with a particular light effects.


Mario Sironi was commissioned to decorate the great hall Mario Baratto in 1936. The painting portrays a series of allegorical figures:

  • the student athlete (emblem of the Fascist University Groups) holding a book and a musket;
  • the winged lion emblem of the Republic of Venice;
  • the domes of the St Mark's Basilica;
  • the allegory of Technique (the woman leaning against a wheel);
  • the allegory of Medicine (the woman with the caduceus);
  • Venice (the woman on the throne holding a plate depicting Ca' Foscari);
  • the Homeland (which represents the victory of Italy against Ethiopia).

Mario De Luigi was a close friend of Carlo Scarpa; they both attended the Academy of fine arts of Venice and they worked together in the field of design and town planning; he was assistant of Arturo Martini at the Academy, then he started teaching scenography at University IUAV of Venice. Deluigi was asked to decorate a room on the first floor of Ca' Foscari palace; afterwards the painting was moved to the second floor, in the great hall Mario Baratto. De Luigi passed through different styles; he got over cubism in 1936, till he embraced abstract art in the 1950s. The painting portrays a philosopher among his students.

The last restoration

The last restoration of Ca' Foscari and Ca' Giustinian (the palace adjacent to Ca' Foscari) had been committed to the firm Sacaim in 2004 and had the aim to fulfil the new requirements of safety and functionality and had to respect at the same time the ancient structure of the palace. The restoration lasted from January 2004 to summer 2006.

  • Marcello Brusegan. La grande guida dei monumenti di Venezia. Rome, Newton & Compton, 2005. ISBN 88-541-0475-2.
  • Guida d'Italia – Venezia. Milan, Touring Editore, 2007. ISBN 978-88-365-4347-2.
  • Elsa e Wanda Eleodori. Il Canal Grande. Palazzi e Famiglie. Venice, Corbo e Fiore, 2007. ISBN 88-7086-057-4.
  • Isnenghi, Mario; Stuart Woolf (2002). L'Ottocento e il Novecento. Rome. 
  • Venezia e il suo estuario. Lint Editoriale Associati. 1994. 
  • Maurizio, Vittoria (1997). Breve storia di Venezia. Rome: Newton & Compton. 
  • Giuseppe Maria Pilo, ed (2009). Ca' Foscari. Storia e restauro del palazzo dell'Università di Venezia. Venice: Marsilio. 
  • Elena Gobbo, Indagine chimico-fisica della superficie lapidea del portale di Ca' Foscari, Università Ca' Foscari, Venice, 2007

Building Activity

  • removed a media
    about 5 years ago via