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Venice of the mind

Any regular visitor to Venice creates their own special places in this city full of magical hidden corners. One of mine has always been Palazzo Fortuny.

Built in the late 15th century, it became the studio, workshop and home of the extraordinary Spanish artist, photographer, designer of dresses, textiles, furnishing – you name it, he did it – Mariano Fortuny in the first years of the 20th century. Fortuny’s widow left the palazzo and its contents to the city in 1956, and for many years the whole place remained as it was: a rather dusty, slightly frayed temple to creative luxury with a deliciously decadent edge. In the high-beamed first-floor studio, I always felt that Fortuny’s nude paintings of voluptuous, intelligent-looking women, his paint-splattered easels and swatches of his exquisite fabrics were drifting me back to a glorious Belle Epoque.

So when I returned yesterday, after many years of ‘restauro’ which kept the palazzo closed until March 2010, I was scared I’d find a spruced-up, over-sanitized version of my dream-decadence. And of course, nothing was quite as I remembered. Then again, nothing can take away from that warm feeling of the dark, sumptuous wall hangings in Fortuny’s own delicious brocades. And his painting still line the walls. And to mark the reopening, there’s an exhibition of his famous Delphos dresses – sensuous, body-clinging creations of plissé silk in his trademark dark reds and all the deepest, richest shades of autumn.

By coincidence, I visited Palazzo Fortuny with my friend Angie Hobbs (http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/drangiehobbs), philosophy fellow from the University of Warwick, and someone I’d always imagined would slip very comfortably into Fortuny’s style of Belle Epoque decadence. Angie was in Venice making a documentary on Plato and the Atlantis myth. Shooting, however, proved complicated. With Angelina Jolie and Johny Depp in town to make The Tourist, autograph-hungry hordes descend on any film crew. Where else would a philosophy professor be pursued like a Hollywood star?

Palazzo Fortuny, Campo San Beneto, San Marco 3958; +39 041 5200995; www.museiciviciveneziani.it. €9. Closed Tues.

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