An aerial view of Venice
City Guide

Venice: The Insider's Guide

By Sotheby's
Sotheby's connects with four of Venice's leading cultural experts to discuss their favorite destinations and insider tips, including Anna Somers Cocks, founding editor and honorary chairman of The Art Newspaper ; Kosme de Barañano, professor of art history at Universidad Miguel Hernández de Elche and curator of Baselitz-Academy, Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia ; Grazina Subelyte, assistant curator at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice ; and Giorgio Andreotta Calò, a Venice-born artist.
Anna Somers Cocks, founding editor and honorary chairman of The Art Newspaper
Anna Somers Cocks, founding editor and honorary chairman of The Art Newspaper Photo: Katherine Hardy

Anna Somers Cocks

Founding editor and honorary chairman of The Art Newspaper

What is your favourite museum in Venice? 

 
I actually tend not to go to the museums, I just like walking around so much. Venice itself is a museum. But I suppose you have to say the Accademia because it has such an extraordinary array of Venetian painting, and Venetian painting was very great indeed, particularly in the 15th and 16th century.

But I always say to people, if you don’t know Venice very well, just walk around and go into the churches where you can see work in the places for which it was painted.

Venice can become overwhelming and exhausting at times, especially in the summer. Where do you go to get away during busier times in the city?

I’d say go to the neighbourhood (sestiere in Venetian) of Cannaregio; it’s quiet and there is a small number of cafés, but not the kind of hustling that takes place everywhere else.

If you want total quiet, go over to the island of Torcello, which has a wonderful church with early-Medieval mosaics. Ruskin loved it, and it gives you a sense of what Venice would have been like in its early days. The Locanda Cipriani restaurant is there, which has delicious food.

Gondolas lined up outside the Piazza San Marco
Gondolas lined up outside the Piazza San Marco

Is there a Venice site (or two) off the beaten track that is special to you? If so, why do you particularly like it (or them)?

First of all, you have to go to Scuola Grande di San Rocco. This rich confraternity commissioned Tintoretto to paint two great cycles of paintings for their confraternity house. Go and see one thing in particular: the great Crucifixion painting in a side room on the upper floor, which is like something from a Cecil B DeMille film with its cast of thousands. He painted it to be seen from one particular place, which is marked on the floor. At the foot of the cross, with the cross looming up above you, you feel as though you were yourself an extra in this very dramatic composition.

And another thing that you absolutely must not miss at the moment is the Palazzo Grimani, off Campo Santa Maria Formosa. Four hundred and thirty years ago, a cardinal called Giovanni Grimani put together a wonderful collection of Greek and Roman sculptures, and he left them to the Venetian Republic. Now, for the first time since then, they have gone back in his palace, into the very places where they stood when he was alive. This is all being financed by an American charity, Venetian Heritage, which collected €480,000 for this unique event to happen. One of the contributors has been Gagosian gallery, which has taken the upper floor to show works from the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation.

The Salone Superiore in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco
The Salone Superiore in the Scuola Grande di San Rocco Scuola Grande di San Rocco

Tell us how a great day in Venice might unfold for you.

Probably quite a good way to start is to walk down the Zattere, which is on the side of Venice that looks out onto the big Giudecca Canal. Then you dive into the alleyways, go into the church of the Frari and have a look at the great Titian Assumption of the Virgin, which is the first thing you see when you enter this large Gothic church. There she is, rising up magnificently over the high altar.

Then you can take a traghetto (large gondola ferry that leaves as soon as it’s full) to get across the Grand Canal – don’t try to go over Rialto bridge because it’s always too crowded. I might drop into the Palazzo Grassi, see whatever exhibition is happening there, and have a light lunch.

St Mark’s Square is absolutely exquisite, although now people treat it like a picnic place, so it doesn’t feel the way it used to. But it does still have three bands playing, and when one is quiet another plays. So I’d go to one of the cafés there, have an exceedingly expensive aperitif and listen to the music, which offers a flavour of the past with its slightly scrapey violins. Then I would go on to the Danieli hotel, up onto the roof terrace and have dinner as the sun sets, and finally go home.

Is there a restaurant you particularly enjoy?

The reason I like the one on the rooftop of the Danieli, is that you’re looking straight out over lagoon at the island of San Giorgio, and you’re on a level with upper floor of the Doge’s Palace, so you can feel as though you’re dominating Venice. It’s suitably expensive, of course.

For a quick eat with Venetians, not tourists, there is a wine shop called the Cantine del Vino già Schiavi, around the corner from the Accademia. It’s a wine shop so it closes at 8:30pm, and it’s not where you go for a long slow meal; it’s for small, delicious snacks that you get at the bar. Salt cod made into a kind of cream on small pieces of bread, and Venetian-style sandwiches, served then and there with a glass of wine. It’s Venetian fast food.


Kosme de Barañano, professor of art history, UMH University, Elche, and curator of Baselitz-Academy, Gallerie dell’Accademia
Kosme de Barañano, professor of art history, UMH University, Elche, and curator of Baselitz-Academy, Gallerie dell’Accademia Photo: Vicent Marí

Kosme de Barañano

Professor of art history at Universidad Miguel Hernández de Elche and curator of Baselitz-Academy, Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia

What is your favourite museum in Venice?

Aside from the Accademia, which is amazing, my other favourite museum is the Palazzo Fortuny, where the work of the Spanish artist Mariano Fortuny is preserved. He was a versatile man who painted, photographed, did scenography, scenic technique and clothing design (for example the Delphos gown). It was his residence and workshop from 1902 until his death in 1949. In 1956 the palace, which still conserves the fabrics and collections of Mariano, was donated to the City of Venice. It is a beautiful Gothic building with two huge, 45-metre long reception rooms located in the piani nobili. There are always very interesting exhibitions there.

The exterior of the Palazzo Fortuny
The exterior of the Palazzo Fortuny Courtesy: Palazzo Fortuny

Venice can become overwhelming and exhausting at times, especially in the summer. Where do you go to get away during busier times in the city?

There are several interesting trips: one to the silent island of San Michele, the cemetery where the poets Byron and Ezra Pound are buried, as well as the Russians Diaghilev and Stravinsky in the Orthodox section. Another is to the island of San Lazzaro de los Armenios, which was a leprosarium (hence the term lazaretto), and is the most beautiful eastern enclave in the West. In the 18th-century convent of the Mechitarists, an Armenian branch of Benedictines who obey the Pope but with Eastern liturgy, one can visit the library with more than 150,000 examples (among them 5,000 manuscripts). Here Lord Byron began to study Armenian, and the monks still make an excellent jam of roses from their gardens.

San Michele Cemetery
San Michele Cemetery

Is there a Venice museum (or two) off the beaten track that is special to you. If so, why do you particularly like it (or them)?

It is an exercise in artistic practice to compare the Piazza di San Marco (the only space in Venezia with the word piazza in its name) – that space, that agora of worlds, which welcomes the sea – with the small Romanesque cloister of Sant’Apollonia, located just behind the Basilica San Marco. At the entrance to this beautiful cloister there is a stone with a text by Italian poet Gabriele D’Ánnunzio, and above it is the Museo Diocesano Arte Sacra (with a very important collection of illuminated manuscripts). Two huge and beautiful spaces, with different scales. One to see people, the other to be silent.

Basilica San Marco
Basilica San Marco Photo: Falco Negenman

Tell us how a great day in Venice might unfold for you.

When you aren’t touring museums and perhaps want to get some air, you can go to the Vivarini glass factory. You can also go to the Lido, now the international beach and before that the orchards of the city, with its the Jewish cemetery that dates back to 1389. It has been an elegant bathing spot since the late 19th century. It is in this area that the local authority, the Serenissima, celebrates its marriage with the sea in its Sposalizio del Mare spectacle, which is held in front of the church of San Nicolò on the day of the Assumption.

If it’s bad weather you can stay in your room and read Favola di Venezia, the comic by Italian cartoonist and screenwriter Hugo Pratt (1927–1995). He was a “Venetian at heart” who transferred the adventures of his best-known character, the stateless sailor Corto Maltés, into his passion for that double labyrinth of water and land that it is Venice.

Is there a restaurant you particularly enjoy?

Without a doubt the Riviera in the Zattere, near San Basilio. It is a priceless experience to dine superbly at a table on the pier, watching the sunset while being attended to by the owner Gigi Cremonini – personable, cultured and enormously efficient.


Grazina Subelyte, assistant curator at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice
Grazina Subelyte, assistant curator at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

Grazina Subelyte

Assistant curator at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

What is your favourite museum in Venice?

Needless to say, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection! Here one can admire an unparalleled collection of masterpieces of modern art, assembled by Peggy Guggenheim and housed in her former home Palazzo Venier dei Leoni. The display in the Palazzo reflects her interest in Cubism, Futurism, Metaphysical painting, European abstraction, avant-garde sculpture, Surrealism, American Abstract Expressionism, postwar Italian art, and much more.

The interior of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection
The interior of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice Photo: Matteo de Fina

 In addition, I very much enjoy spending time at the Gallerie dell’Accademia in Venice, where one can admire the stunning works by Giorgione, Giovanni Bellini, Paolo Veronese, Tintoretto, and Titian, among many others. Occasionally, I pop in even during my lunch breaks. The Gallerie dell’Accademia now also hosts contemporary arts exhibitions, marked by the revelatory shows such as Philip Guston and the Poets in 2017. I greatly look forward to their Baselitz exhibition opening just in time for the Venice Biennale in May.

Venice can become overwhelming and exhausting at times, especially in the summer. Where do you go to get away during busier times in the city?

I’m incredibly passionate about horses, so I ride on the Lido island. The Circolo Ippico Venezia Lido is a wonderful place with great riding instructors. I certainly feel that I escape the hustle and bustle of the city when I’m there, concentrating on improving my riding skills.

Is there a Venice museum (or two) off the beaten track that is special to you. If so, why do you particularly like it (or them)?

There are certainly many favourites, but I must say that I enjoy visiting the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore and the Stanze del Vetro there. It is a joint project between the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and the Pentagram Stiftung, dedicated to the study of the art of glassmaking. Their shows shed light on the craftsmanship and originality of various glassmaking artists. Apart from admiring the astonishing aesthetics of the objects on view, I always learn something new.

Rigati and Tessuti, installation view
Rigati and Tessuti, installation view, 2012. Courtesy: The Glass Rooms Photo: Ettore Bellini

What bar do you most like to go to in Venice?


I quite like the wine bar I Rusteghi, since it is located right in the centre of Venice, close to the Rialto Bridge, but at the same time it is completely hidden from the crowds and the noise. It was a very nice surprise when I once encountered it by chance. It is small, has a very intimate setting and is therefore perfect to have a glass of good wine with a friend.

Is there a restaurant you particularly enjoy?


La Zucca has been a favorite for a number of years. It is special for me since it always uses very fresh, local ingredients. Their meat dishes are excellent, but their vegetable dishes stand out. The signature dish, the flan di zucca, is to die for.


Artist Giorgio Andreotta Calò
Artist Giorgio Andreotta Calò Photo: Kirsten de Graaf

Giorgio Andreotta Calò

Venice-born artist

What is your favourite museum in Venice?

The galleries of the Accademia. I used to go there often when the Academy of Fine Arts was located in the same building; it’s a place with which I feel a very strong connection.

Venice can become overwhelming and exhausting at times, especially in the summer. Where do you go to get away during busier times in the city?

If you want to be by yourself you should go to the lagoon, the shoals and the small abandoned islands.

Is there a Venice museum (or two) off the beaten track that is special to you? If so, why do you particularly like it (or them)?

The Scuola Dalmata dei Santi Giorgio e Trifone, also known as Scuola di San Giorgio degli Schiavoni. The series of panels by Vittore Carpaccio is a true hidden gem.

Tell us how a great day in Venice might unfold for you.

The best days can include an excursion on the boat on the weekends with my family, going to the fish market, preparing dinner with friends, or taking a stroll at night, when the city empties itself.

Is there a restaurant you particularly enjoy?

When I am on my boat, I often stop to eat at Trattoria Alle Vignole – my parents used to take me there and in turn I now take my own children.

WATCH: Tim Marlow's Must-See Museum Shows: The Venice Biennale's Best Installations, from America to Ghana

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