Palazzo Ducale

Doge's Palace

"Guests at the Palace" - The Last Senate of the Republic of Venice

The Last Senate of the Republic of Venice by Vittorio Emanuele Bressanin

Venice, Doge’s Palace
Sala della Quarantia Civil Vecchia

From 3 May 2023


The Ospiti a Palazzo (Guests at the Palace) series of exhibitions, inaugurated with the masterpiece Maria Maddalena in estasi by Artemisia Gentileschi, will continue in 2023 with a public display of paintings that exalt the role of Venice and its major figures in European history and culture.

From 3 May, on display in the Sala della Quarantia Civil Vecchia di Palazzo Ducale The Last Senate of the Republic of Venice, made by Vittorio Emanuele Bressanin (Musile di Piave, 1860 – Venezia, 1941).

On May 12, 1797, with Napoleon’s troops lined up for an attack on the shores of the lagoon, the Great Council of Venice met for the last time and abdicated in favour of a revolutionary government controlled by the French military command.
On May 15, 1797, the last doge Ludovico Manin left the Palazzo Ducale forever. That was how the thousand-year old history of the Republic of Venice ended.

Ninety years later, in 1887, Vittorio Bressanin wished to convey the powerful meaning of those events with this painting.
An elderly senator descends the Giants’ Staircase in the Palazzo Ducale. His heavy steps and lowered gaze show dignity and resignation. The old-fashioned wig and the famous red gown, which distinguished the magistrates of the Pregadi (the members of the Venetian senate) from all the other patricians of Venice, now belonged to a bygone era, the agony of which can be felt in the contrast between the external pomp and the historical reality.
In the interpretation of the nineteenth-century painter, we do not read decadence, but a reflection on the intimate drama stoically experienced by the magistrate, who here becomes a symbol of the entire city.


Vittorio Bressanin is a painter originally from the Venetian mainland. He moved to Venice to attend the Academy of Fine Arts, where he was a student of Pompeo Marino Molmenti. He specialised in history painting and distinguished himself as an heir to the 18th-century Venetian tradition of frescoed decoration, which he interpreted with “sumptuous ease” (L. Bénédite).
He first gained notoriety at the 1887 National Art Exhibition in Venice with the painting on display here, which was purchased by the famous Venetian scholar Pompeo Gherardo Molmenti, Marino’s nephew – Bressanin’s teacher, who was a supporter of young artists and also made an important bequest to the Museo Correr.
Bressanin also exhibited at the 1894 Milan Triennale, where he won the Prince Umberto prize, at five editions of the Venice Biennale (1897, 1899, 1901, 1907, 1922); and at the Esposizione Nazionale in Rome in 1911. The Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna di Ca’ Pesaro houses nine of his paintings.