Located in the heart of the old city of Padua, Palazzo Zabarella - built for the family of the same name between the end of the twelfth century and the beginning of the thirteenth - is an important reminder of the city’s most illustrious history and, moreover, significant artistic testimony worthy of its recognised national importance. But it also - and especially - represents the prestigious cultural body that for more than twenty years has been planning, hosting and promoting art exhibitions of an international standing, both in terms of scientific rigour and solidity and of public enthusiasm and involvement. Both these aspects have been nurtured with the utmost care since the reopening of the building after the major, scrupulous restoration works that gave it its current, updated form as a multi-purpose cultural centre of great breadth and prestige.
Indeed, Palazzo Zabarella has conceived, produced and presented a major exhibition every year since 1997. Each of these has been a characterising stage in a long and fascinating dialogue established with the public over the years, aimed initially at rediscovering and appreciating Italian artists and movements of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This serried activity is also documented by prestigious scientific publications and exquisite catalogues written and edited by scholars of well-deserved and recognised international renown. Indeed, every event has been - and is - the result of careful, rigorous lines of investigation and research, always carried out by a selection of the foremost experts. All the exhibitions presented until now have been distinguished by their major, recognised scientific and artistic value, and for their notable ability to attract visitors and personally engage them.
And, not by chance, each event has always been applauded by the most authoritative critics and a numerous and loyal public retained over the years, a case that is actually more unique than rare.
Palazzo Zabarella today continues its activity of artistic research and promotion, broadening its horizons of interest and thus renewing the subjects of cultural enquiry on the basis of new and important events capable of expressing the traditional quality of its public offerings. Such an approach maintains the founding principles of this important cultural centre, which as a private body - a unique example of its kind - has been able to present itself right from the start as a serious, reliable and fully equivalent partner of national and international museums, superintendencies and leading cultural institutions, and of important private collectors. This is all part of the common and shared desire to help support, organise and promote artistic and cultural activities inspired by values and standards of pure scientific and exhibiting excellence, without ever forgetting the aim of the complete emotional and cultural gratification of its visitors, whatever their age or nationality. Palazzo Zabarella is evidence of a long history that, starting during the eighth century BC, continues through to the present period. The latter, regarding the historic Padua palazzo, may be said to have begun in 1996, when the formidable and meticulous restoration work lasting almost ten years was completed. This challenge, undertaken with study and enthusiasm, was no simple matter and, once met, gave Palazzo Zabarella back its original, ancient splendour and - more important still - a new life and renewed function.
Palazzo Zabarella is evidence of a long history that, starting during the eighth century BC, continues through to the present period. The latter, regarding the historic Padua palazzo, may be said to have begun in 1996, when the formidable and meticulous restoration work lasting almost ten years was completed. This challenge, undertaken with study and enthusiasm, was no simple matter and, once met, gave Palazzo Zabarella back its original, ancient splendour and - more important still - a new life and renewed function.
The first settlements on the area now occupied by Palazzo Zabarella - the ancient site of a river port on the Brenta - date back to the eighth century BC, when a first residential nucleus with external workshop for metalworking appeared. The complex was further developed between the end of the second century BC and the start of the first century AD: the construction materials were by then durable, marking an increase in craft activities and consequent well-being, as clearly shown by the frescoed plasters and elegant mosaic floors found during the excavations. The complex thus grew hand in hand and in perfect synergy with the urban and economic development of Padua, through to the fall of the Roman Empire. The Medieval period and the Zabarella family Padua resumed its form as a city in around 1049, partly due to its commercial vocation being reasserted with the rise of the Carraresi lordship, which lasted until 1405 when the city passed definitively into the Republic of Venice. The Zabarella family appeared within the sphere of the Carraresi powers and was subsequently raised to the nobility under Venice, becoming one of the most prominent households of Padua. The family also built the tower that still distinguishes Palazzo Zabarella between the end of the twelfth century and the start of the thirteenth..
Padua resumed its form as a city in around 1049, partly due to its commercial vocation being reasserted with the rise of the Carraresi lordship, which lasted until 1405 when the city passed definitively into the Republic of Venice. The Zabarella family appeared within the sphere of the Carraresi powers and was subsequently raised to the nobility under Venice, becoming one of the most prominent households of Padua. The family also built the tower that still distinguishes Palazzo Zabarella between the end of the twelfth century and the start of the thirteenth.
The palazzo remained in the possession of the Zabarella family over the centuries. Because of its central role in representing their economic and political power, its ownership was handed down only to the closest male descendants. These included the brothers Giovanbattista and Lepido Zabarella, who in 1672 decided to rationalise the building to conform to its new functions. The public surveyor Tomasso Sforzan thus designed a main structure consisting of two units - each linked to the existing medieval tower - and completed by the opening up of the service areas, the communal well and the garden.
In 1802 Count Giacomo Zabarella arranged for a renovation of the building’s interior on the occasion of his wedding. The project was assigned to the architect Daniele Danieletti, who worked in a respectful and conservative manner, adapting the existing structures to the harmonies of the contemporary neo-classical style, as shown by the colonnaded atrium, the vestibule and the staircase. Three very renowned painters were then engaged to fresco the rooms between 1818 and 1819: Giuseppe Borsato (1770- 1849), Giovanni Carlo Bevilacqua (1775-1849) and a young Francesco Hayez (1791- 1882). The Zabarella family died out with the death of the count in 1846. The palazzo then passed to other private owners until 1920, when Credito Veneto bought it to use as their head office. In 1925 the building was extended by the architect Antonio Zanivan, who added a semi-circle on two floors, echoing the neo-classical style of the atrium. In 1949 the building housed the Società del Casino Pedrocchi: the semicircle on the upper floor was divided to create a ballroom and other subsequent works also radically altered the west wing of the complex.
Palazzo Zabarella was bought by the Paduan entrepreneur Federico Bano in the 1980s. His intention was to create a multi-purpose cultural centre, reinterpreting the model of American foundations and some artistic-entrepreneurial projects that had arisen in those years. The complex task of rescuing and restoring the building began in 1988 - directed by the architect Gaetano Croce - with the aim of respecting the special artistic and archaeological characteristics of the complex. This also provided an opportunity for carrying out archaeological excavations in the inner courtyard area. The many finds that emerged included the four magnificent Roman mosaics that are now housed in one of the building’s rooms. The various dwellings that face onto the courtyard were also recovered, along with the splendid arcades that close off the rotunda. The works were completed on 5 October 1996 and Palazzo Zabarella returned to new life, fully restored to the city. The first major exhibition was then held, already in March 1997, featuring the works of Maurice Utrillo. This marked the start of the successful series of exhibitions that make Palazzo Zabarella the important centre for the creation and propagation of culture it remains, thus becoming a principled and rare example of a private, non-profit cultural centre dedicated entirely to the study - rigorous, but never serious - and promotion of culture and art.