In 1420 the wealthy citizen Marino Contarini decided to build Venice's most magnificent palazzo. Originally known as the Palazzo Santa Sofia but now commonly known as the Ca' d'Oro (House of Gold),
the palazzo was designed by famed architect Giovanni Bon and his son Bartolomeo. The Bons are also well-known as the architects of the Doges Palace
and the Porta della Carta.
The building, completed in 1430, is constructed in the Venetian floral Gothic style, typical of most of the structures designed by Bon. This particular Gothic style resembles Byzantine architecture and is almost Moorish in design. The principal facade faces the Grand Canal
and is one of the most photographed buildings along the waterway.
The building got its nickname because of the intricate detailing on the outside, which including decoration with such materials as gold leaf, vermilion, and ultramarine.
The ground floor has a colonnaded loggia (or corridor) that gives direct access to the entry area from the water. Above that is an enclosed balcony, which belonged to
the palace's principal "salon", or sitting room, on the main floor of the house. The arches on this balcony are topped with delicate quatrefoil windows, resembling flowers with four petals. Above the main level is another balcony with similar, but smaller, quartrefoil windows.
The whole structure, like most palazzos of the era, was built around a small inner courtyard. However, a later owner of the palace - the ballet dancer Maria Taglioni - destroyed the courtyard stairs as well as the balconies that overlooked the courtyard. She also sold the historic well and removed much of the marble.
The last private owner of the Palazzo Santa Sofia was Baron Giorgio Franchetti. Many credit him with saving the building from demise or further vandalism by owners who did not care about the architectural integrity of the palace. In 1922, the Baron bequeathed the palazzo to the State of Venice. The building's exterior was recently beautifully restored and the well is now reinstalled in the courtyard.
These days, Ca' d'Oro is open to the public as a gallery, named for Franchetti. It houses the Baron's extensive art collection, which features works by Venetian artists Titian, Tintoretto, Carpaccio, Tiepolo, Giorgione, as well as a number of Flemish and other non-Venetian artists such as van Eyck and van Dyck. Additional pieces have been added over the years and temporary exhibits sometimes stop at the gallery.