Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Unfinished Palazzo: Life, Love and Art in Venice” as Want to Read:
The Unfinished Palazzo: Life, Love and Art in Venice
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Unfinished Palazzo: Life, Love and Art in Venice

3.95  ·  Rating details ·  531 ratings  ·  62 reviews
Judith Mackrell brings to life the history of Venice’s mysterious and idiosyncratic Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, “the Unfinished Palazzo,” through the lives of three of its most eccentric, passionate, and rule-breaking residents—Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse, and Peggy Guggenheim.

Venice, 1750: The powerful Venier family commissions a beautiful palazzo on the Grand Canal, on
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published April 4th 2017 by Regan Arts.
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.95  · 
Rating details
 ·  531 ratings  ·  62 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Unfinished Palazzo: Life, Love and Art in Venice
Lynne King
Abandoned once unfinished on Venice’s Grand Canal; “il palazzo non finite” was once an unloved guest among its opulent neighbours. Yet in the 20th century it played host to three unconventional women who would take the city by storm.

The staggeringly wealthy Marchesa Luisa Casati made her new home a belle époque fantasy and herself a living work of art; notorious British socialite Doris Castlerosse welcomes film stars and royalty to the glittering parties; and American heiress Peggy Guggenheim am
Lesley Truffle
Nov 17, 2017 rated it really liked it
The Palazzo Venier dei Leoni in Venice – commissioned in 1750 but left unfinished – owes its revival and fame to the three extraordinary women who bought the palazzo and lived there at different times in the 20th Century: Luisa Casati, Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim.

This true story is so strange, dramatic and engaging that sometimes it reads as fiction. However, the author thoroughly researched The Palazzo Venier. Judith Mackrell examined the State Archives of Venice and interviewed thos
Lynne King
Sep 03, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 10-stars, venice
Abandoned once unfinished on Venice’s Grand Canal; “il palazzo non finite” was once an unloved guest among its opulent neighbours. Yet in the 20th century it played host to three unconventional women who would take the city by storm.

The staggeringly wealthy Marchesa Luisa Casati made her new home a belle époque fantasy and herself a living work of art; notorious British socialite Doris Castlerosse welcomes film stars and royalty to the glittering parties; and American heiress Peggy Guggenheim am
Jul 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Ladies who launch.

Judith Mackrell tells the stories of three 20th century women who refused to be circumscribed by the comfortable circumstances of their birth, launching themselves into wider society as creatures of their own design. Luisa Casati and Peggy Guggenheim were born into tremendous wealth but even the deeply middle-class Doris Castlerosse could easily have settled for a conventional existence. Instead, these women were not content to simply be ‘ladies who lunch’ and each of them used
3.5 stars

This book is difficult to rate. On the one hand, I actually enjoyed reading it - it’s written quite nicely, the topic is surprisingly interesting and it’s also educational (I did not know anything about either the palazzo or the three women beforehand and now have the feeling that I learned a lot).

On the other hand, there are some things that bugged me. For one thing, just roughly 20% of the book are about the palazzo that inspired the book. This book is three biographies of three quit
Aug 10, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I finally finished The Unfinished Palazzo. (Sorry.)

I'm conflicted about this book. On one hand, it was incredibly interesting, on the other, I still was a bit bored while reading. It wasn't as fascinating to me as her previous book. On another hand, reading about these ladies being whoever they goddamn well pleased was empowering (even as they were terrible)! On the other other hand, some of the language around abuse suffered (especially by Peggy) was...disempowering, to say the least. It was di
Vicky Moon
Feb 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
For anyone who has ever fallen in love with Venice and also been to the Guggenheim museum this is the only thing to read. One of the best books ever, not just on Venice, just magnificent. Hurry and read this one and fall in love all over again.
Mar 08, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 5-star-2020
This book is a triple-layered macaroon, and I’m so glad I finished it on International Women’s Day!
A glimpse into three eras of insanely rich women’s passions - and all the attendant wardrobe, interior design, and celebrity you could want. READ THIS BOOK!
John Kaye
Jul 27, 2018 rated it liked it
I understand the reasons for putting this book together: the three women who occupied the Palazzo Vernier, but perhaps too much was not about Venice and the palazzo itself. The three women are presented as all very self-obsessed, with complicated lives, and this comes across with approval. I'd wanted more about the building and its place in the way Venice worked. I got a bit bored with the "family life" of Peggy G. ...more
Sharon Terry
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Lovers of culture, Venice, historical women
My interest in this book was piqued when I saw a review if it somewhere, accompanied by a picture of Peggy Guggenheim reposing in the sun on the roof of the palazzo. I was not to be disappointed. What an incredible story! Three remarkable women inhabited and redecorated this unfinished building, started in 1750 by the prominent Venier family of Venice who subsequently ran out of money and had to abandon it. For a time, it simply fell into decay; only one storey had been completed and it was seen ...more
Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
I will set aside two key thoughts in writing this review:

First: Although the book is titled "The Unfinished Palazzo", the content of the book speaks very little to the palazzo itself and, indeed, the palazzo is completed by the second of the three women the book profiles. I understand that the lack of completion when bought by Luisa Casati, the first 20th century female owner profiled here, is what put the palazzo on its trajectory, but it is still an irksome title for the book.

Second: The thr
Feb 05, 2018 rated it it was ok
Much as I love Venice, and though I have been several times to the Guggenheim Collection, I cannot rate this book higher than two stars. I had some slight sympathy for Lusia Casati, but none at all for Doris Castlerosse and Peggy Guggenheim. All three women were self-obsessed, though if Luisa had Asperger's Syndrome there may have been an excuse for her. Doris used her feminine wiles to wend her gold-digging way into the Castlerosse title. Casati was born into immense wealth and squandered a maj ...more
John Spiller
Feb 09, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was initially drawn to the book because I had passing familiarity with Peggy Guggenheim and wanted to know more about her. "The Unfinished Palazzo" easily met my expectations in that regard. The stories of Luisa Casati, though, were a revelation and likewise worth the price of admission.

This is a five-star book for the right reader. Several of the reviewers below have done a much better job than I could ever do providing an overview of the contents of this book. I will not repeat what has bee
Verity W
I started reading this after reading and enjoying the Riviera Set - a book where Doris Castlerosse played a minor role and realising that I had a book featuring her in a central role waiting to be read. And it was a bit of a mixed bag really. Luisa Casati is bonkers but not very engaging to read about, there's not really enough of Doris in it and the same for Peggy Guggenheim.

I've read Mackrell's Flappers, which was a much more enjoyable and engaging read so this was a disappointment to me over
Helen Carolan
Jun 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This was an interesting read. For many years the palazzo dei Leonie stood empty and abandoned. But at the turn of the 20th century it was re-discovered. During this century 3 women would make it their home at a time of crisis in their lives and achieve a measure of happiness here. Luisa Cassati Doris Castlerose and Peggy Gugginheim all made it their home.Indeed Peggy transformed it into the now famous Gugginheim museum. A fascinating account of a building and the lives of the 3 women who lived h ...more
Oct 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
Wish that I could have rated this book higher. Not enough info on the Palazzo Vernier. Nothing really new on the Marchesa Casati or Peggy Guggenheim. Did not know much about Doris, Lady Castlerosse. But there was not much of the tie-in with each of the women. Especially when you get to page 341 and she casually mentions that the Palazzo in is located next to the site of the old Palazzo Vernier. Where was that history? This book should not have cost $35.
Annie Garvey
Dec 03, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I read this book in a day . . . couldn't put it down. Mackrell does a great job of weaving the characters lives through the narrative. ...more
Jan 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you don’t know Venice, or if you are a naive tourist (as I was in 2008), this palace looks like a remnant from the Renaissance. In fact, it was commissioned in 1750 by the Venier family. The foundations were laid for the largest palazzo to be built along the Grand Canal and when finished, was to be more than twice as wide as any other and was planned to have four stories of marble floors, columns, carved lions, gilding...and more. The foundations were laid but the area was marshy even by Vene ...more
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
This is a door into a world of wealth and eccentricity. Luisa Casati is the first woman to be investigated in this book. Her friendships and attitudes to life are eye opening. She lived as an artwork, the Venetian palazzo a backdrop to her vision. This was fascinating and led me to further research on Casati. Next Doris Castlerosse, a woman who shocked with her liberal attitude to love. Her life touched many famous people including Churchill. Venice was her party city. She gathered film stars an ...more
Apr 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
I picked it up originally because I love Venice with all my heart and was particularly interested in its history of the 20th century, as I did not know much about that part of its history. However, while I did enjoy that this book gave me a relatively compact yet extensive overview over the social history of the 20th century in general, I dearly missed Venice during large parts of it. But then again it is mostly about the three women themselves, so that is simply personal preference.
I found it
Mar 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography, art
I'm really glad I stuck with this - the Peggy chapters at the end are the best ones!
Luisa sounds interesting when you hear a little about her, but she's so unrelatable that it's hard to sit through over a hundred pages about her. Doris seems to have had a interesting life, but this book laregly skips over it because little of it was lived in Venice.
I don't understand the hate for Peggy in some reviews, I found her very sympathetic (inspiring even!) as well as fascinating (even though she was a t
Simon Bate
Jan 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book tells the stories of three fascinating women drawn together by the conceit of them passing some of their lives in Venice at 'The Unfinished Palazzo.'...Most of their lives however were spent elsewhere and the settings presented here are more often than not in Paris, London, New York and Rome; not that this is a bad thing.The ladies meet interesting people, sleep with them and enjoy the privileges of wealth, are totally self centred and are fairly indifferent to their progeny.
I was a
Patricia Boksa
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
I quite enjoyed this book. Rather than a book about a palazzo, it was essentially three short biographies about three quite fascinating privileged women who were socialites of their time (1913-1979), into art and living a life in the public eye. This author knows how to write an interesting biography, focusing on the main interesting arc of the subject's life (and not muddying the story with her knowledge of irrelevant trivia, as in another book I recently tried to read but couldn't: "The Lady i ...more
Mar 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
Absolutely mesmerised by these three womens’ unyielding quest for acceptance and finding their sense of self through lavish expenditure and self-destructive behaviour. Total narcissism at its best, but what a legacy to behold. They were the influencers and divas of their time, constantly re-inventing themselves, yet clueless as to how to gain fulfilment. We owe so much to Peggy’s foundation, which makes it difficult to criticise her life choices, but her neglect towards her children is hard to b ...more
Oct 21, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
THE UNFINISHED PALAZZO, Judith Mackrell, ITALY, Venice, 1900ff
Interesting was reading about the Palazzo dei Leoni as a piece of architecture. However, through no fault of the author's, the women who inhabited the iconic palazzo were made of the same cloth. I got tired of reading about illicit, innumerable affairs, unhappy marriages, dysfunctional families...that characterized these wealthy, privileged women. The beauty of the palazzo was tarnished by those who resided there.
Liz Pardey
Sep 12, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating detail, three fascinating women who each bought this palazzo in Venice. I wish there had been more pictures, plans, details of the actually palazzo but what isn't there isn't there.
It does seem to have been a bit of a fatal attraction -- although all three women were renowned in their time, none of them had what could be called a happy, fulfilled life. It ended badly for them all though the palazzo lives on as the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation in Venice.
Louise Halliday
Jun 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
Three thoroughly absorbing mini biographies of three fascinating women, all of whom were resident at the unfinished palazzo and all of whom made it an extension of their own personality. Luisa Casata, a human work of art, Doris Castlerosse whose tempestuous love life was the stuff of legend, and Peggy Guggenheim who carved out a niche for herself as an art aficionado despite crippling struggles with self esteem. Venice provides a suitably dramatic backdrop for these extraordinary lives.
Dec 08, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Listened to the audiobook. This is another one of those books seemingly about a topic (here, the unfinished Venice palazzo) which can be - and is - dispensed with in about 40 pages, after which the book moves to something completely different (here, three notable women who lived in the palazzo at one time or other). That being said, I enjoyed learning about three very interesting women in a very unusual historic setting. But it wasn’t one of my favorite reads.
Very interesting account of the lives of three women who owned the Palazzo Venier in Venice in the 20th century. The extremely strange Luisa Casati turned herself into a work of art, Doris Castlerosse had slightly less impact but Peggy Guggenheim created an amazing collection of modern art. The book almost amounted to an overview of 20th century art from surrealists to modernists seen through the eyes of these three women. An absorbing and lively read.
Jan 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2018reads
I’m really enjoying this account of the lives of three incredible women, Luisa Casati, Doris Castleruse, and Peggy Guggenheim, and an old elaborate Venetian Palazzo they all owned and called home. Now the Guggenheim Museum in Venice it is a fascinating insight into the history of Venice and the people who lived, loved and added to the atmosphere of this wonderful city.
« previous 1 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Confessions of an Art Addict
  • The Rumpelstiltskin Problem
  • The Light Ages: The Surprising Story of Medieval Science
  • A Year at the Chateau
  • The Riviera Set: Glitz, Glamour, and the Hidden World of High Society
  • Villa America
  • Yellow Wife
  • Atlantic Black
  • The Dark Archive (The Invisible Library, #7)
  • We Keep the Dead Close: A Murder at Harvard and a Half Century of Silence
  • Minus Me
  • Dans la nuit de Daech
  • The Most Beautiful Thing
  • Music Habits - The Mental Game of Electronic Music Production: Finish Songs Fast, Beat Procrastination and Find Your Creative Flow
  • Somewhere in the Unknown World: A Collective Refugee Memoir
  • Counterpoint: A Memoir of Bach and Mourning
  • The King and the Catholics: The Fight for Religious Liberty in Georgian England
  • Wagner's Parsifal: The Music of Redemption
See similar books…
Judith Mackrell is a writer and dance critic for the Guardian. She lives in London with her husband and two sons.

News & Interviews

  If you listen to NPR regularly, you’ve likely heard the voice of Shankar Vedantam, the longtime science correspondent and host of the radio...
10 likes · 2 comments