Back in 1749, the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni was intended to be among the grandest in Venice: a five-storey masterpiece of show-off architecture that would dominate its stolid neighbours and overshadow even the mighty Ca’ Grande, home of the haughty Corner family, on the other side of the Grand Canal. Alas, twenty years later, construction of the ambitious palazzo had progressed no further than a single storey.
By 1910, the palazzo non finito – as it was fondly known to its eventual saviour, Peggy Guggenheim – had become a wreck. Semi-roofless and festooned with ivy creepers, the building nevertheless bewitched Marchesa Luisa Casati, one of the early 20th century’s most mesmerising eccentrics. What could possibly offer a better stage for a woman who viewed the world as her audience than a palace perched upon the banks of the Grand Canal, Europe’s most theatrical waterway?
Three somewhat monstrous chatelaines, Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim, form the subject of Judith Mackrell’s captivating, vivid and exquisitely gossipy book. It is a tribute to their formidable egos and – the habitual price of tyranny – their essentially lonely lives.
Oddest by far of this unnerving trio is