The Ca’ Capello Layard and its art collection: a forgotten Anglo-Venetian treasure house of the late nineteenth-century
Accordingly, in early 1880-1881 the palace underwent
a systematic renovation project aimed at “making
Ca’ Capello the gem of the Gran Canale [sic]”28 and
creating a dignified environment, befitting the couple’s
social role and economic prospects. It was rearranged
into two principal stories: on the ground floor there
were kitchens, storerooms, and some guest rooms.
The piano nobile consisted of a long hall, a dining
room, a drawing room, a music room, a boudoir and
a small card room. The second floor was reserved for
the couple, with their bedrooms and dressing rooms,
Henry’s library, and a studio for Lady Layard, while the
servants had rooms in the attic.29 The remaining rooms
were intended for guests; the couple had “the rooms
on the waterfront lined with wood and parquetted
[forming] a very comfortable suite of three bed rooms
and a sitting room for friends”.30 This sequence of
rooms – overlooking the Grand Canal – corresponded
to the State Apartments and provided an adequate
backdrop of sociability. From 1875, in these light
and spacious rooms, Henry provisionally arranged
part of his painting gallery with the assistance of
Giovanni Morelli, a friend as well as one of the most
distinguished art critics of the time.31 The walls were
lined with carpets and fabric hangings, of all kinds
and ages. As a sale catalogue records, there were over
seventy specimens of Oriental carpets at Ca’ Capello
Layard.32 According to this catalogue and to other
literary sources, the majority of the furniture was in
the style of Louis XIV, XV, and XVI, which of course
continued to represent “the epitome of good taste
within plutocratic circles”.33 In general, as a reviewer
later reported,
The various objets d’art harmonise
admirably with the pictures and charm
the eye without undue insistence upon
their number or their preciousness […] the
residence of Sir Henry Layard has none of
that character which demands the hushed
voice and silent tread as in a museum,
but remains the home of a gentleman of
good taste, to whom perhaps the great
picture galleries do not give a sufficiently
convincing proof of their utility.34
The Ca’ Capello Layard and its art collection: a forgotten Anglo-Venetian treasure house of the late nineteenth-century
The visitor response was, however, that Ca’ Capello
“had become a museum thanks to Layard’s care”.35 It
aroused significant admiration from connoisseurs and
others for the individual works of art it contained; but
it also piqued public interest as it had been formed in
part through the advice of Giovanni Morelli, and that
“was considered, in a way, a guarantee”.36 Although the
palace represented a platform for presenting Layard’s
multifarious activities and personal taste, he actively
sought to encourage the study of his works of art “in
the flesh”. To this end, his collection went on tour to
the Fine Arts Club (1861), the British Institution (1862),
the National Exhibition of Works of Art in Leeds (1868),
the South Kensington Museum (1869-1874), the Royal
Academy (1870), and the National Gallery of Ireland
(1874-1876).37 Besides reflecting Layard’s sense of
public duty, these temporary loans and exhibitions were
aimed at educating the public by granting a broader
access to works of art, while equally promoting his
image as a knowledgeable collector. Furthermore,
they provided the collection with considerable
visibility, including several mentions in newspapers and
magazines. In line with this educational pursuit, from
the 1880s, the painting gallery at Ca’ Capello was made
accessible to scholars, connoisseurs, and other select
visitors.38 This resulted in the Layard collection being
frequently referred to not only within monographs on
individual artists and general art historical surveys, such
as Crowe-Cavalcaselle’s histories of Italian painting, but
also in guidebooks, for example Burckhardt, Baedeker,
Kugler, Karoly, and Lafenestre Richtenberger’s.39
According to several descriptions, the collection “proved
a constant source of attraction to those strangers who
have made proper application in advance [though] the
Ca’ Capello has not always been as easy of access as
the Giovanelli and other palaces of lesser importance”.40
The gallery was not completely isolated from the private
realm and could not be accessed by just anyone.41 It
is difficult, however, to ascertain how admittance
was regulated when not by express invitation. It is
most likely that visitors were required to apply for
access well ahead of time and preferably would be
introduced by an acquaintance of the Layards.
who visited the palace until 1912.48 Among many
leading personalities from the international art and
archaeological world were Charles Ephrussi with the
Marquis D’Azeglio (1880); Gustave Dreyfus (1880,
1903); Pasquale Villari (1881-1882); Károly Pulszky
(1890); Henrietta Hertz (1892); Nellie Jacquemart and
her husband Édouard André (1893, 1912).49
Fig. 11 / Signatures
found on the back of the
X page of Lady Layard’s
Autograph Book (Add. MS
50149), London, British
An early case in point is the visit of Enrico Costa and
Bernard Berenson. They were granted access to the
Layard Collection thanks to a letter of introduction
by Lady Eastlake in 1890.42 The two young scholars
“found [Layard] on the point of going out”, and he
evidently “was unable to do more for them than to take
them through the rooms, and then to leave them […] in
undisturbed possession of the house – [Lady Eastlake’s]
recommendation being sufficient guarantee for their
honesty and good conduct”.43 Curiously, Layard’s
main fear of unaccompanied guests is expressed in
the following excerpt: “They spent, I believe, more
than an hour over my pictures, and being alone they
could criticise them and me as much as they thought
proper.”44 This might be possible, though Berenson
confirmed most of the attributions in his indices of
the Italian Painters of Renaissance.45 Later on Berenson
would go back both alone and in the company of
Mary Costello, his future wife, who also “seized upon
the opportunity to visit the collection twice to make a
complete inventory”.46 The gallery was accessible not
only to scholars, but also to royalty and the cultured
élite.47 Lady Layard’s journal, as well as her autograph
album, which served as a visitor book (fig. 11), provide
an indication of the number and variety of people
Germans, however, stood out foremost among the
visitors of Ca’ Capello. This should come as no surprise
being that the collection was widely mentioned in the
Der Cicerone, Kugler, and Baedeker guides.50 From a
letter that Layard wrote to Lady Eastlake we learn that
“some of [her] German friends, Dr Richter […], Dr
Lipmann and other learned and tasteless professors,”
as Layard jokingly referred to them, “have been to see
my collection and have contented to express themselves
satisfied with it.”51 A decade later Layard still observed:
“I have constant applications from Germans and others
to see the house, which is somewhat of a bore. I had
the Director of the Vienna Gallery a few days ago.”52
Despite the fact that admission policies might have been
implemented in order to retain a degree of privacy
and tranquillity, it is certain that Layard took great
pride in showing and discussing his collection with the
guests. Interestingly, next to the Saint Jerome by Savoldo
(NG3092, see fig. 6) was hung “for comparison, a
photograph of the drawing in the Louvre”.53 It is clear
that Layard intended to elicit discussion with the visitor,
possibly engaging with matters of connoisseurship.
During his absence, however, it was, possible to
examine the gallery unaccompanied by the owner, as
was the case with Berenson and Costa. Presumably, the
visitor was guided by a list of the paintings provided by
Layard himself, which specified the author and some
further information.54
The gallery continued to be visited after Henry’s death
in 1894. The 1st Baron Burton and his wife, Harriett
Georgina, were the first to be received in 1895.55
Notable people added to the list of visitors were Walter
Armstrong, Gertrude Bell, Emil Jacobsen, Henry Thode,
Gabriele D’Annunzio and Eleonora Duse,56 Giorgio
Franchetti, Ugo Fleres,57 Emilio Visconti Venosta,58
Giacomo Boni, Ugo Ojetti and Corrado Ricci.


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