Venice Shopping: The Grand Canal

Michael James O’brien

Three Venetian artists create singular pieces from the comforts of home. Departures browses the palazzi.

It’s difficult to feel special when shopping in Venice. The road to even the most exquisite shop is lined with throngs of camera-toting tourists. And the artisanal ateliers—though they yield unique treasures—can be more workroom than showroom. With this challenge we were led by three Venetians to their private palazzo doors. They invited us in to view their collections beneath Tiepolo ceilings and by the light of vintage Venini chandeliers.

Glass by Giberto Arrivabene

Palazzo Papadopoli is hard to miss: It’s one of the largest private residences on the Grand Canal, and Giberto Arrivabene’s family has lived in it since the 1830s. Today it’s occupied by Giberto (known as Gibi), his wife, HRH Princess Bianca di Savoia Aosta, their five children, a dog, countless ancestral portraits and Gibi’s glass collection. The line, simply called A Venetian Design, was launched several years ago, when Arrivabene couldn’t find the elegant pieces that adorned so many tables in his youth. His Jai glasses ($280 for six) are simple tumblers done in jewel-toned glass, rimmed in platinum and adorned with a single semiprecious stone. There are dove-gray Champagne coupes ($125 each) and water glasses hand-engraved with etchings of Venice’s most beautiful palazzi—including his own. The Bisanzio cups ($265 each) are made from finely grooved glass trimmed in silver. The design was inspired by a cup of hot chocolate Gibi’s grandmother kept by her bedside; the coin at the bottom of each is a replica inspired by his great-grandfather’s numismatic collection, granted to the city of Venice before World War II. But what Gibi takes most pride in—other than the fact that each item can be personalized with an engraving or a crest and is handmade by the glass masters of Murano—is his completion of a limited-edition collection of amber, blue, black and clear glass busts of Emperor Augustus Caesar, the first ruler of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. “A statue of the emperor first inspired me, “ says Arrivabene, “and I loved the idea of crafting something that combined classical history with glass, the timeless material of Venice.” For more information, contact 39-041/099-4582 or e-mail Select pieces are also available through

Jewelry by Marie Bagnasco

Marie Bagnasco calls the beads and baubles she sells from her home “Fantasy Jewels.” And her pieces are, to be sure, a Carnevale-like reverie of color: long lapis strands with coral on a sautoir ($2,700); gobs of amethyst twirled in citrine ($2,700); a traditional Venetian blackamoor brooch trimmed in feathers ($20,000); chunks of labradorite secured as a bracelet by a mother-of-pearl flower ($600). The setting—Bagnasco’s buttercream-colored dining room, with its ikat-draped tables, Rubelli-trimmed mirrors and French doors opening onto the Grand Canal—is equally dreamlike. So is Bagnasco, a Jeanne Moreau type who came to Venice from South America with her late husband (the owner of Ciga hotel group) on a business trip and never left. Her house, called Ca’ Lezze, is near Palazzo Grassi and directly across the canal from Ca’ Foscari, the Gothic building that houses the city’s main university. “It’s quite easy to find,” says Bagnasco, speaking like a true Venetian, “but if you get lost, call me and I’ll play control tower.” By appointment only; 39-041/520-6685;

Landscapes by Roger de Montebello

To paint Venice is a tall order—this is a city where cliché can easily dominate. To Roger de Montebello, a 46-year-old French-born painter with an atelier at the top of Palazzo Contarini Polignac, his family’s palace on the Grand Canal, the city provides perpetual and genuine inspiration. For a place that sees about 16 million tourists a year, his Venice paintings are devoid of them. Yet they are intensely alive in the way the water, the sky and the city’s architecture are rendered in glassy, reflective landscapes. (De Montebello’s image of Punta della Dogana graces the cover of this magazine.) His Venetian series ranges from the Eagle of Burano to the Zattere, surely one of the most famous waterfront promenades in all Europe. As well as being an eminently collectible painter, he is the epitome of aristocratic French manners. He comes from good stock: His uncle, Philippe de Montebello, was director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for 30 years. By appointment only;