Near the church of Santa Maria dei Carmini, rises the imposing mole of a Baroque Palace, one of the largest palaces ever built in Venice. Designed by architect Antonio Gaspari, a student and collaborator of Baldassare Longhena, highly regarded for his conservative renovations and interior design. The palace was erected at the end of the XVII century, in 1690, for the Zenobio family who were wealthy patricians of Greek origin and had settled in Verona. The Zenobios obtained the title of patricians in 1647 from the Venice Senate. The palace has been constructed on the foundations of a pre-existing Gothic building of the fourteenth century belonging to the Morosinis, and later acquired by Zenobios, Pietro and Verità, and transformed into a massive and modern building for that period, demonstrating the escalating status the family had gained on the Venetian political arena.
Palazzo Zenobio is considered to be one of the most significant examples of Venetian late Baroque design, both architecturally and in interior decor. In comparison to other palaces of the same period, the broad – U – like plan, with its sizeable courtyard open to the garden, is not typical for the Venetian architecture. However, details of the austere main façade show similarities with other Palaces, in particular with Palazzo Barbaro-Curtis. The large coat of arms, originally positioned above the tympana of the central loggia, was a key element of the façade, and has since been removed and can be viewed in the internal garden of the Palace. Two small quadratic courtyards are located behind the first rooms at the left and right side of the ballroom. The ballroom itself is situated behind the central balcony of the main façade and extends over two floors. A small stairway in the left wing (which obtains light from the small courtyard) provides access to the “Piano-Nobile”. Gaspari conserved half of the original portego of the Morosini building and added a serliana to distinguish it formally from the ballroom. Similarly to Palazzo Barbaro-Curtis, the ballroom of Palazzo Zenobio has the height of two floors. An orchestra gallery was added above the serliana. The magnificent ballroom on the main floor is the main highlight. Blending beautifully with the stucco and colourful painting of the French artist Louis Dorigny, who created a large trompe-l’oeil ceiling fresco. Majestic and complex painting frames, mythological tales, statuary nudes adorned with garlands, rich oriental tromp-l’oeil carpets and mocking dwarfs demonstrate the opulent baroque style. Large mirrors magnify space and enhance the enchanting atmosphere. It is said that a young Giambattista Tiepolo has been a collaborator of the Chief artist. During the thirties of the XVIII century, the family commissioned a mature Tiepolo an additional painting for the ceiling of the room overlooking the garden. The splendid “Peace and Justice” tondo is now part of the Mekhitarist Collection, on the Island of San Lazzaro. The Armenian Order has been the title-holder of the building since 1850. Returning to the ballroom, the Zenobio’s coat of arms glorifies the importance of the family with its allegories and flowered urns. A serliana supports the music lodge with elaborated golden consoles. Three landscapes by Luca Carlevarijs decorate the short portego. Above the doors, note the high-relief golden medallions of mythological inspiration such as “The Challenge between Apollo and Marsia”, commissioned in the XVIII century to Gregorio Lazzarini. Further, on the left side of the ballroom ceiling there are two frescos painted by Gaspare Diziani. One of them represents “virtue and nobility” and the second one is not apparent Eseguiti verso la metà del secolo. Carlevarijs was a painter, engraver and architect and is regarded as the father of 18th-century Venetian view-painting (veduta) and precursor of other well known vedutists. Although he was not (as sometimes asserted) the first to specialize in the genre, he approached it with a new seriousness, his training as a mathematician being reflected in his rigorous perspective settings. The eighteenth century credited Luca Carlevaris as the first painter of any significance to paint views of Venice. Nowadays he is also considered the one who, together with Vanvitelli laid the foundation for painted “vedute” of that city, on which painters such as Canaletto and Guardi would continue to build. In 1679, Carlevarijs moved from his native town Udine, to Venice and was discovered by the Zenobios and soon thereafter was commissioned and began painting large landscapes for the “portego” between 1682 and 1688. These works reveal the influence of Eismann, and of Pieter Mulier, called Tempesta, who was active in Venice during that period. As a token of his position as ‘pittore di casa’, Carlevarijs retained the sobriquet ‘Luca di Ca’ Zenobio’. Throughout the XVIII century the Palace became a venue for intense intellectual life. Carlevarijs and many other important artists and intellectuals lived and worked in the Palace in the adjacent Biblioteca Zenobiana inaugurated in 1777 (the white pavilion at the end of the garden, with 4 marble columns, in classical style). The building was designed by Tommaso Temanza to host the family’s archives and vast library. The building has been utilized as the library of the Moorat- Raphael School up until 1990. Since 1993, after a complete restoration, it now serves as a research centre for Armenian studies. Carlevaris’s important series of one hundred and four etchings published under the title “Le Fabriche et Vedute di Venetia”, dates from 1703. This collection of predominantly frontal views of the most important buildings and squares of Venice form the first series of Venetian vedute conceived as a whole. Two of these etchings present the two façades of the Palace. The internal façade view reveals the superb all’italiana garden. The main halls are adorned with an important white and gold stucco plaster. Rich molds, shells, drapes, acanthus and other decorative elements leads one to believe that Abbondio Stazio was the decorator as he was, together with Tencalla, a leader of this precious art. The last of the Zenobio’s, Alvise, died in London while in exile in 1817. The Palace was left to his sister Alba Zenobio, wife of Count Gian Battista Albrizzi. She brought the family’s art collection and archives to Palazzo Albrizzi, (where they are still kept), and then sold it to Count Salvi, from Vicenza, who undertook some works of interior renovation. He also considerably changed the garden’s style, from the elegant park all’italiana to a romantic style park. Count Salvi sold the Palace to the Mekhtarist Order in 1850. The following year, the Raphaelian School was transferred here from Ca’ Pesaro where it was founded in 1836 thanks to a generous bequest of an Armenian merchant from India.