Along the Grand Canal, you can’t miss 15th-century Ca’ d’Oro's lacy arcaded Gothic facade , resplendent even without the original gold-leaf details that gave the palace its name (Golden House). Baron Franchetti donated to Venice this treasure-box palace packed with masterpieces displayed upstairs in Galleria Franchetti , alongside Renaissance wonders plundered from Veneto churches during Napoleon’s Italy conquest.
Napoleon had excellent taste in souvenirs, including bronzes, tapestries, paintings and sculpture ripped (sometimes literally) from church altars. Most were warehoused at Milan’s Brera Museum as Napoleonic war trophies until they were reclaimed by Venice for display here. Collection highlights include Titian's flushed, smouldering Venus at the Mirror (c 1550; note the perfect pout and freakishly long arm); Tintoretto's suitably shadowy portrait of Consiglio dei Dieci master spy Nicolo Priuli; and Pietro Lombardo’s chubby-kneed Jesus leaning on his mother, in glistening Carrara marble that actually looks soft. Recently restored masterpieces include Andrea Mantegna’s arrow-riddled St Sebastian and Titian fresco fragments rescued after Venice’s 1967 flood. Restorers work right in the gallery, so you might get to witness treasures painstakingly brought back to life before your eyes.
Yet even Renaissance masters are upstaged by the elegant palace itself, the city's finest example of Venetian Gothic. Step outside onto Ca' d'Oro's double-decker loggie (balconies), where Grand Canal views framed by Gothic arcades make the city’s most irresistible photo op. When open, galleries off the loggia showcase 12th- to 19th-century polychrome ceramics. On your way out, peek into the water-door entry courtyard to admire the intricate geometric mosaic floors , puzzled together from a major Mediterranean haul of semiprecious stone from Tunisia, Turkey, Greece and Egypt.