Venice's historic gallery traces the development of Venetian art from the 14th to 18th centuries, with works by Bellini, Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese and Canaletto, among others. The former Santa Maria della Carità convent complex housing the collection maintained its serene composure for centuries until Napoleon installed his haul of Venetian art trophies here in 1807. Since then there’s been non-stop visual drama on its walls.
The grand gallery you enter upstairs features vivid early works that show Venice's precocious flair for colour and drama. Case in point: Jacobello Alberegno's Apocalypse (Room 1) shows the whore of Babylon riding a hydra, babbling rivers of blood from her mouth. At the opposite end of the emotional spectrum is Paolo Veneziano’s Coronation of Mary (Room 1), where Jesus bestows the crown on his mother with a gentle pat on the head to the tune of an angelic orchestra.
UFO arrivals seem imminent in the eerie, glowing skies of Carpaccio’s lively Crucifixion and Glorification of the Ten Thousand Martyrs of Mount Ararat (Room 2), which offers an intense contrast to Giovanni Bellini's quietly elegant Madonna and Child between St Catherine and Mary Magdalene (Room 4). Further along, Room 10 features paintings by Tintoretto and Titian, as well as Paolo Veronese’s monumental Feast in the House of Levi, originally called Last Supper until Inquisition leaders condemned him for showing dogs, drunkards, dwarves, Muslims and Reformation-minded Germans cavorting with Apostles.
While rooms 12 to 19 are occasionally used for temporary exhibitions, it's in Room 12 that you'll find Giambattista Piazzetta’s saucy, fate-tempting socialite in Fortune Teller. Yet even her lure is no match for the glorious works gracing Room 20. Among them is Gentile Bellini's Procession in St Mark's Square, which offers an intriguing view of Venice's iconic piazza before its 16th-century makeover. Room 21 is no less captivating, home to Vittore Carpaccio's St Ursula Cycle, a series of nine paintings documenting the saint's ill-fated life.
The original convent chapel (Room 23) is a serene showstopper fronted by a Bellini altarpiece. Sharing the space is Giorgione’s highly charged La Tempesta (The Storm). Art historians still debate the meaning of the mysterious nursing mother and passing soldier with a bolt of summer lightning – is this an expulsion from Eden, an allegory for alchemy, or a reference to Venice conquering Padua in the War of Cambria?
Ornamental splendours were reserved for the Scuola della Carità's boardroom, the newly restored Sala dell’Albergo. Board meetings would not have been boring here, under a lavishly carved ceiling and facing Antonio Vivarini's wrap-around 1441–50 masterpiece, filled with fluffy-bearded saints keeping a watchful eye on proceedings.
Titian closes the Accademia with his touching 1534–39 Presentation of the Virgin. Here, a young, tiny Madonna trudges up an intimidating staircase while a distinctly Venetian crowd of onlookers point to her example – yet few of the velvet- and pearl-clad merchants offer alms to the destitute mother, or even feed the begging dog.