Venice’s Most Beautiful Hidden Gem, the Palazzo Contarini’s Spiral Staircase, Reopens

Nélida Nassar   07.01.2016

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After almost ten years of renovations, the most beautiful external spiral staircase in all of Venice, known as the ‘Bovolo’ (the Venetian term for snail shell), is reopening to the public. Built around 1499 by Giorgio Spavento, it is in the Transition style, between the Gothic and the Renaissance. The Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo itself was designed by the architect Giovanni Candi.

Venetian-Byzantine in form, the staircase is Gothic in its construction technique and Renaissance in its use of such architectural elements as the capitals. The main building, in brick, is lightened up by balconies with fine marble pillars on which rest the arches, like those of the adjacent loggias. Located in a small, less-travelled calle (street) near Campo Manin, it lies about half-way between Campo San Bartolo, at the foot of the Rialto, and Campo Santo Stefano. The staircase leads to an arcade, providing an impressive view of the city’s roof-tops, and its panoramic terrace affords the most beautiful views of the historic center: the five domes of San Marco in the foreground, the lagoon, the Venetian Pre-Alps and the Euganean Hills. The loggias are linked to the main building of the palazzo, which is owned by the IRE (Istituzioni di Ricovero ed Educazione), Venice’s Institution for Public Assistance and Charity.

The “IRE” owns a remarkable collection of works of art from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century, donated mostly by its benefactors; the subjects depicted place an emphasis on the cardinal virtues. The most valuable painting is certainly the painted sketch with which Jacopo Tintoretto participated in (and won) the competition organized by the Serenissima for the great “Paradise” painting located in the Great Council Hall in the Palazzo Ducale. Among the other noted artists in the collection are Domenico Tintoretto, Giuseppe Angeli, Jacopo Bambini, founder the Venetian Baroque, Carlo Loth, Sebastiano and Marco Ricci.

The Palazzo del Bovolo was chosen by Orson Wells as one of the main locations (Brabatio’s house) for his 1952 adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello, and the staircase is prominently featured in the film.

The collection will open to the public from the loggia on to the second floor starting
July 1, 2016.