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Left: The Palazzo Grimani and its neighbor on the Grand canal. Right: The Ceiling of the stairway inside the palazzo. Construction on the Grimai began in 1556 under the direction of Michele Sanmicheli, and now houses the Corte d’Appello (Court of Appeals).

The chapter in last volume of The Stones of Venice entitled “Roman Renaissance” opens with high praise for this building: “Of all the buildings in Venice, later in date than the final additions to the Ducal Palace, the noblest is, beyond all question, that which, having been condemned by its proprietor, not many years ago, to be pulled down and sold for the value of its materials, was rescued by the Austrian Government, and appropriated — the Government officers having no other use for it—to the business of the Post-Office; though still known to the gondolier by its ancient name, the Casa Grimani” (11.43) [The editors of the Library Edition here point out in a note on the same page that “Later issues of the ‘Travellers’ Edition’ here add the note: ‘Now removed elsewhere — viz. to the Fondaco de’ Tedeschi.’”] Ruskin goes on to describe the Grimani, explaining that “it is composed of three stories of the Corinthian order, at once simple, delicate, and sublime; but on so colossal a scale, that the three-storied palaces on its right and left only reach to the cornice which marks the level of its first floor. Yet it is not at first perceived to be so vast; and it is only when some expedient is employed to hide it from the eye, that by the sudden dwarfing of the whole reach of the Grand Canal, which it commands, we become aware that it is to the majesty of the Casa Grimani that the Rialto itself, and the whole group of neighbouring buildings, owe the greater part of their impressiveness” (11.43-44). Ruskin then continues with the highest praise for a building that he believes one of the very finest in its style: {Nor is the finish of its details less notable than the grandeur of their scale. “here is not an erring line, nor a mistaken proportion, throughout its noble front; and the exceeding fineness of the chiselling gives an appearance of lightness to the vast blocks of stone out of whose perfect union that front is composed. The decoration is sparing, but delicate: the first story only simpler than the rest, in that it has pilasters instead of shafts, but all with Corinthian capitals, rich in leafage, and fluted delicately; the rest of the walls flat and smooth, and their mouldings sharp and shallow, so that the bold shafts look like crystals of beryl running through a rock of quartz” (11.43-44).

Ruskin devotes such attention to the Plazzo Grimani, because, as he explains, he believes that “this palace is the principal type at Venice, and one of the best in Europe, of the central architecture of the Renaissance schools; that carefully studied and perfectly executed architecture to which those schools owe their principal claims to our respect, and which became the model of most of the important works subsequently produced by civilised nations. I have called it the Roman Renaissance, because it is founded, both in its principles of superimposition, and in the style of its ornament, upon the architecture of classic Rome at its best period. . . . It is this style, in its purity and fullest form,—represented by such buildings as the Casa Grimani at Venice (built by San Micheli), the Town Hall at Vicenza (by Palladio), St. Peter’s at Rome (by Michael Angelo), St. Paul’s and Whitehall in London (by Wren and Inigo Jones), — which is the true antagonist of the Gothic school” (11.45). Having thus presented the Grimani to us as the exemplar of Renaissance architecture, Ruskin, who had included his famous chapter on “The Nature of Gothic” in the previous volume, explains that he now proposs “to set before the reader the Nature of Renaissance, and thus to enable him to compare the two styles under the same light, and with the same enlarged view of their relations to the intellect, and capacities for the service, of man” (11.45).

More of Ruskin's Venice

Photographs 2019 and 2020. [You may use these images without prior permission for any scholarly or educational purpose as long as you (1) credit the photographer and (2) link your document to this URL in a web document or cite the Victorian Web in a print one.]


Ruskin, John. The Works. Ed. E. T. Cook and Alexander Wedderburn. “The Library Edition.” 39 vols. London: George Allen, 1903-1912.

Last Modified 30 March 2020