The History of the Palace
The history of Leoni Montanari Palace begins in 1678, when Giovanni Leoni Montanari decided to have a large residence built on the same site where his family already owned some buildings. The Leoni Montanari family had reached a solid financial status by producing, and trading in, fabrics. In those years, they were seeking a higher social rank, and repeatedly asked the municipality of Vicenza to be admitted to the nobility. The building of the palace was therefore intended as eloquent evidence of their aspirations, and of the new role they were seeking in the city’s life. This situation was a determining factor for the peculiar style of the palace, which is the only baroque residence in Vicenza – a city otherwise faithful to the classicist teaching of the architect Andrea Palladio. While the choice of an architectural style so foreign to Vicenza was intended to shock the public with its originality, it also marked a break with the definitely conservative taste of the local aristocracy. While the documentation found so far in the archives has not allowed to identify the authors with certainty yet, we know that the construction was carried out in two distinct phases, and was completed during the second decade of the seventeenth century. It has been suggested with good reason that the Borrella construction firm from Vicenza, and the Lombard architect Giuseppe Marchi, were active participants in the project.
The Leoni Montanaris’ wish to take a distance from the orientation of the aristocracy is shown among other things by the decorations inside the palace, the work of mainly foreign artists. The Paraccas, a family of stucco workers and painters, were from the valley called Valsolda, near Lake Lugano; the painter Giuseppe Alberti was from Trent; Louis Dorigny was French; and the sculptor Angelo Marinali was from Bassano del Grappa. The themes of the decorations are primarily drawn from Greek and Roman mythology. The recurring representations of the feats of Apollo (a symbol of Art) and of Hercules (a symbol of Virtue) are aimed at extolling the clients. The Leoni Montanaris had managed to reach their solid position not by birthright, but by practicing Virtue – in their case, the profitable trade in fabrics. In 1808, the palace became the property of Count Girolamo Egidio di Velo, an amateur archaeologist and enthusiastic collector of Greek and Roman antiques. The count had the main-floor decorations enriched with stuccos and frescos in the neoclassical style, partially distorting the original baroque conception. After a number of further conveyances, in 1908 the prestigious property became the property of Banca Cattolica Vicentina – called Banca Cattolica del Veneto after 1930 – which established its headquarters there. The building was almost hit by the heavy and repeated bombing of the neighborhood during War World II, but miraculously escaped destruction. During the late 1970’s, the palace underwent an important restoration.
The architectural details and the rich decorations were brought back to a large extent to their original aspect. As Banca Cattolica del Veneto merged with Banco Ambrosiano Veneto in January, 1990, the building was freed from its operational and public-relations functions, and became the exclusive headquarters of the Bank’s cultural activities. During the 1990’s and to this day, Leoni Montanari Palace has hosted many cultural events such as exhibitions, conferences, and concerts. Banco Ambrosiano Veneto has become by now a part of Intesa Sanpaolo. The opening of the Galleries of Leoni Montanari Palace brings to completion the cultural mission of the Palace, a mission which has been redesigned and refined over the last couple of decades. The opening of the Galleries was made possible by a new, recent restoration of the building, which has endowed it with a technological equipment capable of meeting the exhibiting requirements of Intesa Sanpaolo.
The Main Floor
The main floor of patrician homes was usually called nobile. The rooms on this floor were not used as living quarters; there were no bedrooms, no kitchens, no bathrooms. The floor was rather used to entertain guests; it was a sort of prestigious façade, a sign of the magnificence of its owners. There, every aristocrat offered receptions and gave parties.
Prospetti e sezioni del Palazzo(disegni di G. Bellavitis, da Giorgio Bellavitis, Loredana Olivato, Il Palazzo Leoni Montanari di Vicenza della Banca Cattolica del Veneto, Vicenza 1982)
For this reason, the rooms were often decorated with frescos and stucco works, and were the home to collections of art works or libraries. In the old days of Leoni Montanari Palace, a remarkable collection of paintings gathered by the family was exhibited in some halls on this floor. According to an inventory compiled in 1713, there were more than fifty paintings by illustrious artists, among whom some painters from the Veneto region stood out: Giovanni Bellini, Andrea Schiavone, Jacopo Palma the Younger, Francesco Maffei, and Giulio Carpioni. The collection was soon dispersed because of several conveyances of the palace. Today we continue the tradition of that collection, at least ideally, and we employ the halls according to their original functions. There we have arranged the collection of XVIII century paintings from the Veneto region, which belongs to Intesa Sanpaolo. Just as in an old picture gallery of a nobleman, the paintings are exhibited along the visiting path.
- Navarotto, La nuova sede della Banca Cattolica Vicentina, in “Pro Familia”, October 16, 1910.
- D. Bortolan, G. De Mori, Il Palazzo della Banca Cattolica già dei Leoni Montanari a Vicenza, Vicenza, 1929.
- L. Magagnato, Palazzo Montanari Leoni, in Guida di Vicenza, Vicenza, 1956 (1st edition 1953), pp. 154-56.
- F. Barbieri, Il Palazzo Leoni Montanari a Vicenza. Sede della Banca Cattolica del Veneto, Vicenza, 1967.
- G. Bellavitis, L. Olivato, Il Palazzo Leoni Montanari di Vicenza della Banca Cattolica del Veneto, Vicenza, 1982.
- Piccola Guida: Gallerie di Palazzo Leoni Montanari, Milano, 1999.
- G. Barbieri, M. Cacciari, O. Calabrese; photographs by A.and S. Tommasoli, Palazzo Leoni Montanari, Verona, 2000