There are two cities of Venice. The city the tourists know. Magical and other-worldly, almost Disney-esque as if the entire city were built for our visual entertainment. A Living Museum so packed with art and architecture it seems improbable to think residents have room to reside amidst the culture. And then there is the city the locals know. La Serenissima Repubblica di Venezi. The most serene republic of Venice where in the sestieri, or neighborhoods, beyond San Marco 60,000 Venetians reside - Cannaregio, San Polo, Santa Croce, La Giudecca, Lido di Venezia and Dorsoduro. It’s the latter that lures me in, the Dorsoduro, opposite the Accademia Bridge, home of the Peggy Guggenheims and Ezra Pounds of the world. And home to local antiques dealer Orseola Barozzi Rizzo of O & C Antiques. Together with her business partner, Chiara Zanella, they sell antique fabrics, from Asia and Europe, jewels, as well as antique objects from Venice and the surrounding Veneto.
As long as there has been a Venice there has been a Barozzi. Orseola is a descendant from one of the 12 famous families known as the “apostolic” founders of Venice. The 5th Doges of Venice , Doge Galla in 755AD, was Orseola’s ancestor. Making her home on a quiet street near the lively Campo Santa Margherita, she dwells in a building which was once part of a 14th C convent. Spread over three floors this artfully restored ancient building has captured a clean, minimal, Italian aesthetic while paying homage to the past in an interior filled from the ground floor to the top with antiques used in in every room as part of the everyday life.
Almost every item in the living room is an antique – from the Uzbekistan late 19th C wall covering draped artfully over a vintage divan to the 17th C Italian Armoire from Bologna to the 16th copper amfora. Hundreds of years, centuries past, dialogue with the present in a house that fits together as if a puzzle, separate pieces fused together into one cohesive whole. The ground level today houses the kitchen and living/dining room with the private rooms upstairs.
And as stunning as living room and adjacent courtyard are, it’s the private rooms upstairs which enchant me. In one of the two bedrooms where Orseola herself slept as a child, a museum quality 18th C bed cradles the sleeper. Utilizing a decoupage technique called Arte Povera (literally poor man’s art) this headboard was featured as an exquisite example of Venetian lacquered work in Saul Levy’s famous Lacche Veneziane Del Settecento. On the bedside table a 16th C hand-painted compendium of important families cotes of arms serves as bedtime reading.
Another floor up in the Master bedroom a Balinese Divano, dated circa 1900, is today where Orseola and her husband rest their head at night under a blue-painted ceiling that keeps the room cool. In the corner of the room a handful of priceless throne cushions are stacked. I’ve only seen similar pieces in the Met, but here in the home of an antique dealer in Venice, I’m able to stroke the fabric, fingering the beadwork as I couldn’t do in the museum. One cushion is ancient Tibetan, another an imperial yellow silk from the Qing Dyanasty, a third actually used by a former Dali Lama.
Out the open bedroom windows I can hear the church bells of the nearby Campo Santa Margherita ring. On the campo daily life seems much as it would in any other city in Europe. I’m reminded that Venice is not just a city for tourists, but a city where life is lived.
Our stomachs calling, we walk down stairs after touring the house, pausing over antiques for sale - some of the collection is available to be purchased as part of the inventory of O&C Antiques while some is part of the private collection of Orseola’s family. Around the corner we shop at the open air market on the campo, stopping at the fish monger to pick up that evening’s dinner and then head to a little shop to buy an assortment of tramezzino – tiny triangular-cut Italian sandwiches – to bring back to Orseola’s enclosed courtyard for lunch.
Upon returning to her home I’m offered Prosecco. In Venice, I’m certain they must never drink water – only Prosecco, day in and day out – for in all my times and trips to Venice I’ve only been offered Prosecco - never water. Orseola explains, “Local legend goes, water rots the wood”. And so in antique stemware with the glass dripping with age I sip Prosecco in the sunshine of Orseola’s courtyard along with she and Chiara, discussing the business of antiquing in Venice.
Like the rest of Orseola’s house the courtyard is filled with antiques, the walls adorned with 16th, 17th and 18th C architectural fragments from Venice. In the corner of the courtyard a weathervane stands – this sculpture was made specifically for Orseola’s grandfather by a Venetian artist, inscribed with the words, “Fortuna aiutame finche vivo” – “Luck help me while I live.” And as the sun shines on my face and I sit sipping Prosecco in a private home of an antique dealer in Venice, I think with a sigh, I must be the luckiest girl alive. For being in Venice makes one feel this way…that luck has smiled on you that day.
Orseola Barozzi Rizzo and Chiara Zanella are co-owners of O&C Antiques http://www.oc-antiques.com/ selling antique fabrics, from Asia and Europe, jewels, as well as antique objects from Venice and the surrounding Veneto. They are also starting a new revolution in antique – hosting a series of Salones in private residences around Europe. To inquire for details email firstname.lastname@example.org