1. Bust of Antinous as Dionysus, marble. Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Venezia. 

Grimani's collection goes back home

A special exhibition DOMUS GRIMANI 1594–2019 celebrates the return, after more than four centuries, of a collection of Classical statuary to its original home, the Palazzo Grimani in Venice. One of the most magnificent of the monumental palaces overlooking the Grand Canal, Palazzo Grimani is the result of several architectural interventions during the mid-16th century, made for Giovanni Grimani, Patriarch of Aquileia (1506–1593), a descendant of the doge Antonio Grimani (1434-1523), the original owner of the palace.

Giovanni Grimani, a keen collector of antiquities, refurbished his residence on a lavish scale to house his extensive collection of Greek and Roman sculpture, marbles, vases, bronzes and precious stones. In 1587, however, he decided to donate his works of art to the Republic of Venice. A year after his death, the sculptures, were placed in the entrance-hall of the reading-room of the Biblioteca Marciana – designed by the distinguished Italian architects Jacopo Sansovino (1486-1570) and Vincenzo Scamozzi (1548-1616) and known thereafter as the Statuario della Repubblica di Venezia.

The ceiling of the hall of the Statuario is currently being repaired and, as this will take some years to complete, the statues adorning the walls of this room have had to be removed. This has provided a unique possibility to temporarily exhibit them again in Palazzo Grimani. For two years visitors will be able to see the masterpieces of the Grimani collection displayed in their magnificent original setting, as they were when Giovanni Grimani was alive.

2. The spectacular Tribuna forms the centrepiece of the exhibition.

The palazzo (which is now the property of the Italian state) re-opened last May after major restoration work. Its interior was decorated in the style suited to the refined taste of one of the most sophisticated and cultured patron of the arts in Late Renaissance Venice. A sequence of rooms were decorated in Tuscan-Roman Mannerist style. The 'Foliage Room', so-named because of its frescoed ceiling representing a luxuriant forest, contains one of two exceptional late Renaissance tables with a marble and lapis lazuli inlaid top, made in Rome in the late 16th century.

In 1829, Michele Grimani, last heir of the Santa Maria Formosa branch of the family, sold the table to Henry Greville, 3rd Earl of Warwick (1779-1853), for his castle in England where it remained until 2015 when it was sold at Sotheby's for some million pounds to a private collector. The centrepiece of the exhibition is the spectacular Tribuna: an extraordinary space which has miraculously survived almost intact. It was inspired by the coffered dome of the Pantheon in Rome.

Here, Giovanni Grimani's most important sculptures were strikingly displayed on shelves, mantelpieces and plinths. But the most dramatic feature of the Tribuna is the marble group of Ganymede borne aloft by an eagle (below), a Roman copy of a late Hellenistic original, hung from the ceiling as if it were flying upwards.
Another outstanding piece in Grimani's collection is the ravishing and celebrated portrait of Emperor's Hadrian favourite boy Antinous (circa AD 111–130). This marble bust (left) is possibly a 1st century AD original,or a superlative Renaissance copy by an, as yet, unidentified master.

The Museum of Palazzo Grimani is still without a permanent collection (Giovanni Grimani's sculpture collection now belongs to the Archaeological Museum of Venice). So, perhaps the palazzo – an architectural masterpiece – could retain this priceless collection in their original setting, while the Marciana could re-house copies?

• DOMUS GRIMANI 1594–2019 is on show at Musuem of Palazzo Grimani (www.polomusealeveneto.beniculturali.it) until 30 May 2021. The audioguide is narrated, in Italian, by Isabella Rossellini and, in English, by Jude Law.

Dalu Jones