The Ca’ Capello Layard and its art collection: a forgotten Anglo-Venetian treasure house of the late nineteenth-century
The Ca’ Capello Layard and its art collection: a forgotten Anglo-Venetian treasure house of the late nineteenth-century
Unlike the majority of their compatriots who preferred
Florence or Rome, Layard and his wife Enid, née Guest
(1843-1912, fig. 9), longed to buy a home in Venice, at
least from the early 1870s, when they began to spend
part of the year there.9 In October 1874, after having
visited several properties, they resolved to buy Ca’
Capello (fig. 10).10 A fifteenth-century building, it had
a “whitewashed & plain”11 facade that had once been
frescoed with mythological subjects by Paolo Veronese
and Giovanni Battista Zelotti.12 This fact, however,
does not seem to have been known to the Layards,13
who in 1887 painted the façade “old Venetian red”.14
In addition, it was adorned with a typical Venetian
decorative feature, the patere (small, circular reliefs) as
well as with their coat of arms – an operation intended
to give a sound historical underpinning and to convey
dignity to the palace.15
Overlooking the Grand Canal at the corner of the Rio
of San Polo, Ca’ Capello “is capitally situated and gets
all the sun that there is to be had”16 from both facades
as it is slightly positioned towards the centre of the
canal, wrote Layard. The palace was, therefore, ideally
suited to becoming a picture gallery, where paintings
could be fully appreciated in excellent natural light.
Curiously enough, initially Ca’ Capello was intended
“as a pied-à-terre”, and Layard noted that, “if we don’t
go, we can always let the house so as to give a very fair
return for one’s money”.17 Indeed, they intended to let
the upper floor in order to “get about £80 a year”.18
Fig. 9 / Fratelli Giuseppe e Luigi
Vianello, Portrait of Enid Layard,
1880s, albumen, Ms. 42408, fol.
3, Edinburgh, National Library
of Scotland.
But primarily the palazzo had been purchased as “a
delightful place for repose and the enjoyment that
one requires […] when the time of rest comes”.19 An
ideal opportunity to move in presented itself at the
end of 1880, when Layard’s ambassadorial career
suddenly came to an end.20 He immediately felt the
need to redefine himself and develop a new public
persona. At this point Layard decided to make Ca’
Capello his principal abode, in order “to avoid the
turmoil of English life and to escape London and the
London fogs”.21 The decision stemmed also from a
necessity to find a refined, though not too expensive,
place to settle down, “renouncing the pomp and
amenities of the Ambassadorial world”.22 The Layards
thus “propose[d] to seek for a small house in London
to serve as a pied-à-terre for a part of the year – the
remainder [they would] spend at Venice where
[they could] live pleasantly and comfortably”.23 The
much-coveted ambassadorship to Rome was never
attained; nonetheless, Layard continued acting in an
ambassadorial role in his new Venetian home.24
Fig. 10 / Ed. Alinari, Canal
Grande. Palazzo Cappello
ora Layard, Venice,
Fondazione Giorgio Cini,
Fototeca dell’Istituto di
Storia dell’Arte.
Ca’ Capello Layard was a hub of cultural activities
and receptions, enjoying a reputation for being “one of
the gayest and most liveable of Venetian residences”,
where “a large proportion of passing visitors to Venice,
as well as English and American resident artists and
many distinguished Italians”25 mingled (see fig. 11).
Among the most illustrious personalities of European
society were the Empress Frederick and her son
Kaiser Wilhelm, Princess Charlotte of Prussia, Queen
Alexandra, the Crown Princess of Greece, Count Paul
von Hatzfeldt-Wildenburg, Lord Kitchener, the Dukes
of Sermoneta, the Baroness Angela de Reinelt, and
many more. 26 As John Pemble has observed:
Although Ca’ Cappello is one of the
smaller palaces on the Grand Canal,
Layard and his wife never contrived
to make it intimate. Their style of life
was public rather than private, and the
atmosphere of their Venetian home was
more institutional than domestic.27


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