The Ca’ Capello Layard and its art collection: a forgotten Anglo-Venetian treasure house of the late nineteenth-century
No doubt the main attraction of the collection was
represented by the Old Masters, but visitors also
appreciated other pieces of fine and decorative art.
J. Pierpont Morgan, for example, was not only “duly
impressed with the [pictures] & of other things in the
house [but] he also admired “the Hispano mauresque
[sic] plates, [Antonio] Cortelazzo’s works & the Bourges
[sic] enamel vases given [to Lady Enid] by Queen
Margherita”.59 Interestingly, after his visit to the house
Henry Hucks Gibbs, 1st Baron Aldenham (1819-1907),
wrote to Layard: “I am delighted with it and that which
it contains. Of course, the Alonso Cano caught my
eye at once!”60 This little wooden statue representing
a Franciscan saint also captured the attention of Lady
Augusta Gregory (1852-1932), to such an extent that she
made a drawing of it upon her sojourn at Ca’ Capello in
1896.61 Numerically the Old Master paintings made up a
minor, albeit distinguished part of the overall collection,
when compared to the large number of other works of
art dispersed posthumously, but they are likely to have
been the only works to have been considered a collection
tout court. Layard never referred to his acquisitions of
decorative arts in any connoisseurial way, nor made a
record of them, with the exception of two tapestries that
he listed together with the paintings in his manuscript
inventory.62 No doubt the Old Masters could be better
employed as a marker of cultural distinction, alongside
the construction of a social identity, both in a public and
domestic context, as discussed below.
Visiting Ca’ Capello was not the only way to explore
the Layard paintings. Along with verbal descriptions,
photography provided access to the collection for those
who wished to see it but could not travel, thus enabling
its study from further abroad. Even though Layard
did not produce a proper guidebook or catalogue of
his house and art collection, he seriously considered
having the paintings illustrated in an article written
by Gustavo Frizzoni. From 1883 the critic and art
The Ca’ Capello Layard and its art collection: a forgotten Anglo-Venetian treasure house of the late nineteenth-century
historian had been planning to publish a description
of the pictures “in the light of their merit and the
interest which they arouse as an artistic monument”.63
The terms of publication were set out again in a
letter dated 21 November 1888,64 but the lack of
good photographic reproductions may have deferred
publication until 1896.65 Photography represented a
new, powerful tool for the study of the history of art;
due to its documentary potential and relevance, it was
soon to become indispensable to nineteenth-century
connoisseurship.66 In Frizzoni’s view the aim would be
to “make the paintings known to connoisseurs”,67 and,
thus, the photographs needed to be of the best quality.
Ultimately the Layard painting collection was to
become “a well-known subject for photographic
reproduction”, but this followed at least four attempts
of varying degrees of success.68 The first of these
was probably that undertaken by Giovanni Battista
Brusa, who had an atelier at 3833-44 San Pantalon,
Venice, and a shop in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele,
Milan.69 As Layard’s paintings were not included in
the photographer’s catalogue dated January 1882,
it has been assumed that his albumen prints were
executed between 1886 and 1887, when Brusa was in
Venice photographing the Esposizione Artistica Nazionale
di Venezia.70 However, Layard’s correspondence with
Frizzoni between 1882 and 1883 proves that the
campaign must have occurred then.71 The letters reflect
their dissatisfaction with Brusa’s slowness in delivering
the work, to the extent that the Frizzoni suggested
that Layard should call upon another photographer
in Venice, Antonio Fortunato Perini, and experiment
with heliogravure.72 It is unclear whether Layard tried
out this technique, and in any case Brusa eventually
accomplished his task (see figs. 2, 4 & 6). The Prints
and Drawings Library of the British Museum holds
a selection of “Photographs from pictures in the
collection of the Right Hon. Sir A. H. Layard”,73 which
can be connected with this first attempt. According to
the museum’s register, Layard presented twenty-four
albumens on 13 May 1886.74
This first selection of photographs seems not to
have fulfilled Layard’s expectations. Given the poor
legibility of details, Layard gradually substituted them
with images taken in later photographic campaigns.
In July 1885, he consulted the Florentine brothers
Alinari, but the estimate was initially so high that no
agreement was reached.75 The chronology of the
photographs eventually taken by the Alinari is not
clear, but they probably date from after 1891. By midOctober of that year, Frizzoni renewed his enquiry
about obtaining a good reproduction of the Annunciation
by Gaudenzio Ferrari (NG3068.1-2), which was not
among the subjects reproduced by Brusa, but does
appear in Alinari’s album.76 In 1897 Alinari published
a catalogue about Venice including thirty works of art
(to be precise twenty-nine full-length pictures, plus a
detail of a paliotto or small altarpiece, [fig. 12]) from the
“Galleria Layard”.77 Eleven photographs had already
been included in The Magazine of Art (January 1896) to
illustrate an article by Horatio Brown,78 five of which
did not appear in Brusa’s album. Therefore, Alinari’s
photographs must have been taken between late 1891
and 1895. This time span can be further restricted to
the first quarter of 1894, when Henry Layard was still
alive, in view of the inscription, which reads: “Galleria
di Sir H. Layard”. Later illustrations are merely
inscribed “Palazzo Layard”.
A third nucleus of twenty-seven photographs relating to
the Layard paintings can be identified in the archive of
another Venetian photographer, Tomaso Filippi.79 The
dating and details of these negatives are also uncertain,
but the photographs are relevant here as they record
the only visual evidence known so far of the so-called
Juan Carreño de Miranda, Portrait of wife of Charles IV of
Spain (fig. 13), whose whereabouts remain unknown.80
Fig. 12 / Page of the
Alinari catalogue
published in 1897.
It is certain that it was Lady Layard who gave permission
to Domenico Anderson “to photograph the pictures
in this house”.81 They became acquainted through
the Venetian art dealer Michelangelo Guggenheim in
September 1897. She might, however, have already


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