Bostonians in Venice, Italy

Palazzo Barbaro

Looking at the Palazzo Barbaro where Isabella Stewart Gardner used to take her Italian lessons, I asked myself what it was that had attracted her, along with a few other Bostonians, to settle herself at the lagoon.

In the eyes of those pioneers from Boston, who surely had a deeper understanding of culture at that time than did their compatriots, Venice must have appeared magical… dreamlike.  The acquisition of a palazzo, in ruins but authentic, with stairs descending into the water and walls covered in worn, velvet damask, helped make them feel as if they, too, were a part of the old world.  This is why they avoided going to hotels, but preferred to rent or buy palaces on the Grand Canal with all the staff included and an entire fleet of gondoliers, who also came with the premises.

I think Henry James best captured this sensitive chord of the American dream. Lying on the bed that Isabella would have made up for him in the library of the Palazzo Barbaro whenever he visited her, the plot of a novel kept twisting and turning and taking shape in the back of his mind. 

It was to be his greatest work: “…the heat of summer in the South could be felt even in the high-ceilinged, stately mansions…”  Familiar with each and every corner, he wanted to transport his heroine there, a young heiress, to spend the little time that was left her. “In Venice, if it is possible… a few beautiful rooms in a palazzo, historic, where we can be, with a cook, servants, frescoes, wall hangings…”

An excerpt from the book: My Venice

Palazzo Barbaro, Venice, Italy

Palazzo Barbaro, Venice, Italy

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Grand Canal, Venice, Italy

Barbara Athanassiadis