New Discoveries in Venice

In Venice it’s often the unexpected discovery that is the most exciting.

Just a few days ago a visit to Gianni Basso, traditional printer, was followed by lunch at Pizzeria Alvise, where the pizzas are fresh, light and delicious. After a pleasant hour eating and enjoying the view from Fondamente Nove across the water to San Michele a little stroll was needed. Five minutes later we were outside the fabulous early 17th century Palazzo Dona delle Rose.

Palazzo Dona is probably the oldest palace in Venice still to be inhabited by the original family. The palace was built by Doge Leonardo Dona and construction started in 1610. The Dona family still live on the piano nobile of this grand structure. Evidence that the palace is still a much-beloved private home is everywhere – including the delightful family hound. However the family are also generous supporters of contemporary art and often host ‘Biennale’ exhibits within the palace. In 2024 the palace is acting as the exhibition space for the National Pavilion of Cameroon.

In addition Palazzo Dona is also hosting a spectacular, multimedia, kaleidoscopically coloured show by Federico Solmi. The event (for it is an absolute spectacle) is entitled ‘Ship of Fools’. Solmi’s work includes video, film, bright lights, complicated collages, flashing images and extraordinary enamelled portrait busts. Screens are populated with larger than life cartoon-like characters strutting, dancing, gambling and promenading. Many of the characters are well known personalities, global leaders, celebrities and VIPs……

It is a compelling and unexpected show. The artist is Italian, born in Bologna and based in New York. Here are just a few photos of the various elements of ‘The Ship of Fools’.

A recent review of the show in Italian (see below) discusses Solmi’s inspiration for ‘The Ship of Fools’ as coming from Gericault’s 1819 classic painting ‘The Raft of the Medusa’ which hangs in the Louvre.

The reviewer suggests that powerful people and western values corrupt and threaten to overwhelm our society. The article is written by Caterina Angelucci for here’s a snippet:

……A cura di Dorothy Kosinski e Renato Miracco, in collaborazione con Var Digital Art by Var Group e il sostegno della Phillips Collection (Washington DC) e della Thoma Foundation (Chicago – Santa Fe), la mostra presenta video, dipinti, sculture in ceramica, oltre a un lavoro in VR, accompagnano l’opera inedita Ship of Fools (di 3 metri per 6) ispirata a La Zattera della Medusa di Gericault, insieme a riferimenti alla Repubblica di Platone e a un libro omonimo del 1494 di Sebastian Brant, pubblicato a Basilea e illustrato con 114 xilografie. L’esperienza immersiva, accompagnata dalle musiche del sound designer Marc Urselli (pluripremiato Grammy Awards), diventa denuncia di ogni forma di potere attraverso il punto di vista di chi ha subito soprusi e ingiustizie, mettendo in discussione atteggiamenti, valori e ideologie occidentali: Giulio Cesare, per esempio, è inseguito dai paparazzi, Garibaldi gira in limousine, Toro Seduto e l’Imperatore Inca Pachacuti diventano rockstar ed Elon Musk raffigura Kim Kardashian in baccanali apocalittici.

Strolling through the exhibition I found the various displays both disturbing and fascinating. No prizes for guessing the identity of the blue-suited American (below left).

Federico Solmi was inspired by French artist Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa – 1819. This painting which hangs in the Louvre is a detailed study of the survivors of a shipwreck, some alive and some recently deceased. The painting – based on a real shipwreck off the coast of West Africa caused a sensation in Paris in 1820 for its graphic realism. The newspapers at the time suggested that the survivors were forced to resort to cannibalism to ensure they didn’t perish. Gericault’s painting took almost two years to create. The artist visited morgues and sketched endless anatomical details to ensure the realism of the finished work.

Whilst Federico Solmi’s multi-media work cannot be compared with Gericault’s magnificent historical canvas directly, nevertheless the latter’s work as a starting point offers an interesting insight into our modern world and what exactly civilisation might mean.

Further images from ‘The Ship of Fools’


1/ Palazzo Dona delle Rose is located on F.te Nove, Cannaregio, Venice – built by Doge Leonardo Dona 1610-1612.

2/ For more on the palace: Palazzo Dona delle Rose

Palazzo Dona delle Rose, Fondamente Nove

3/ The author Janet Simmonds writes about Venice and Italy at She also offers detailed, tailor-made tours in Italy with loads of history, art, culture and (of course) fantastic food and wine. Her company is:

Written: 31st May 2024

Happy campers on our recent ‘Artists in Venice’ tour – May 2024.

May 2024