As the emblem of Venice’s dazzling, baroque and decadent golden age, the late seventeenth-century palace built by a wealthy Catalan family hosted one of the most lavish celebrations of the 20th century
And then there is the Venice of luxury and seduction, the Venice of carnival masks and secret trysts, all in the shadow of great art and enticing Baroque architectures. Think of Palazzo Labia, now home to the austere regional headquarters of Italy’s national TV broadcast RAI, a far cry from what the splendid halls of this building witnessed in the golden age of La Serenissima. But if you are lucky enough to visit the palace and gaze at the magnificent frescoes that Giambattista Tiepolo dedicated to the love of Anthony and Cleopatra, you’ll find yourself swept away into atmospheres that we are used to think belong only in the imagination.Located in Campo San Geremia at the end of the Lista di Spagna, a segment of an important artery such as the Strada Nova, Palazzo Labia was built by very wealthy family from Catalonia that, having only just recently joined the ranks of Venetian aristocracy and eager to make an impression, began building their residence in the second half of the seventeenth century. Flanked by the church of San Geremia, the Palazzo the Palazzo is unusual for having not only a formal front along the Grand Canal, but also a visible and formal facade at its rear, and a decorated side as well, along the Cannaregio Canal. The facades are all richly decorated in Istrian stone, and some experts believe that one of them is the work of renowned Venetian architect Giorgio Massari. To date, however, no official records have been found to support this belief. Finally, all three exteriors present a rusticated ground floor decorated with Doric-style ashlar, while the upper floors have tall segmented windows fenced by balustraded balconettes and separated by pilasters.As you might have guessed, the Labia family spared no cost in the building and decorating of their dream home.
The peak of so much opulence being the already mentioned works by Tiepolo, the crowning jewel of an immense art collection that we see unfolding through the majestic halls and rooms of the building.
The stories of Anthony and Cleopatra, painted between 1746 and 1747, are framed by Gerolamo Mengozzi-Colonna's trompe-l'œil architecture and integrate perfectly with other narrative paintings, depicting sumptuously dressed characters in theatrically eloquent poses. In the vault, inside a central oculus, we find, for example, Bellerophon riding Pegasus towards Glory and Eternity, surrounded by a series of allegorical and mythological figures.The wealth and power of the Labia family declined with the fall of La Serenissima and, in the early nineteenth century the palace was sold and left in a state of decay until the end of World War II, only to resurface once more as a place of luxury and good times under the new ownership of the Franco-Mexican heir Carlos de Beistegui, who carried out a number of major restorations to bring the palazzo back to its original splendour. On September 3, 1951, Beistegui opened the doors of the palace to host a masquerade ball, Le Bal oriental, one of the largest and most lavish social events of the 20th century. As the world’s high society gathered in the ballroom donning eighteenth-century costumes designed by Christian Dior and a very young Pierre Cardin, British photographer and costume designer Cecil Beaton shot a memorable photographic reportage, immortalizing aristocrats, celebrities and artists such as Orson Welles, the Dukes of Windsor, Salvador Dalí, Winston Churchill, the Aga Khan and King Faruq. The photos make us wish we could jump on a time machine and dance the night away alongside the guests of that unforgettable soiree and once again, Masottina comes to our rescue: all we need is a chilled bottle of Prosecco Superiore Costabella Brut Bio.