The Museo Correr is Venice's civic museum, dedicated to the history of the Republic. Based on the private collection of Venetian nobleman Teodoro Correr (1750-1830), it is elevated beyond mere curiosity value by the second-floor gallery, which is essential viewing for anyone interested in early Renaissance Venetian painting. The museum is housed in the Ala Napoleonica, the wing that closes off the narrow western end of the piazza, and in the Procuratie Nuove. Napoleon demolished the church of San Geminiano to make way for this exercise in neoclassical regularity, complete with that essential imperial accessory, a ballroom (now often used for temporary exhibitions). The spirit of these years is conserved in the first part of the collection, dedicated to the beautiful if icy sculpture of Antonio Canova, whose first Venetian commission - the statue of Daedalus and Icarus, displayed here - brought him immediate acclaim. Some of the works on display are Canova's plaster models rather than his finished marble statues.
A corridor off to the right leads to a secluded niche containing a heroic statue (1811) of the city's conqueror, Napoleon.
The historical collection, which occupies most of the first floor of the Procuratie Vecchie building, documents Venetian history and social life in the 16th and 17th centuries through displays of globes, lutes, coins and robes. Room 6, devoted to the figure of the doge, features Lazzaro Bastiani's famous portrait of Doge Francesco Foscari (c1460). Room 11 has a collection of Venetian coins, plus Tintoretto's fine St Justine and the Treasurers. Beyond are rooms dedicated to the Arsenale: a display of weaponry and some occasionally charming miniature bronzes.
The Quadreria picture gallery upstairs is one of the best places get a grip on the development of Venetian painting between the Byzantine stirrings of Paolo Veneziano and the full-blown Renaissance story-telling of Carpaccio. Rooms 24 to 29 are dedicated to Byzantine and Gothic painters - note Veneziano's fine St John the Baptist and the rare allegorical fresco fragments from a 14th-century private house in Room 27. Room 30 fast-forwards abruptly with the macabre, proto-Mannerist Pietà (c.1460) of Cosme Turà.
Room 32, the Sala delle Quattro Porte, contains the famous aerial view of Venice by Jacopo de' Barbari, dated 1500. This extraordinary woodcut is so finely detailed that every single church, palazzo and well-head in the city seems to have been diligently portrayed; also on display are the original matrices in pear wood. Beyond here, the Renaissance gets into full swing with Antonello da Messina's Pietà with Three Angels, haunting despite the fact that the faces have nearly been erased by cack-handed restoration. The Bellinis get Room 36 to themselves - note the rubicund portrait of Doge Giovanni Mocenigo by Gentile Bellini (1475).
The gallery's most fascinating work, though, must be Vittore Carpaccio's Two Venetian Noblewomen - long known erroneously as The Courtesans - in Room 38. These two bored women are not angling for trade: they're waiting for their husbands to return from a hunt. This was confirmed when A Hunt in the Valley (in the Getty Museum in Los Angeles) was shown to be this painting's other half. Downstairs, the collection continues with rooms dedicated to the Bucintoro (state barge), festivities and trade guilds. The last two rooms have paintings of fairground trials of strength.
This collection of Greek and Roman art and artefacts is interesting not so much for the individual pieces as for the light they cast on the history of collecting. Assembled mainly by Cardinal Domenico Grimani and his nephew Giovanni, the collection is a discerning 16th-century humanist's attempt to surround himself with the classical ideal of beauty. Highlights are the original fifth-century BC Greek statues of goddesses in Room 4, the Grimani Altar in Room 6, and the intricate cameos and intaglios in Room 7 or Room 12 (depending on temporary exhibitions). Room 9 contains a fine head of the Emperor Vespasian.
There are occasional free guided tours in English; call 041 522 5978 for information.
Biblioteca Marciana/Libreria Sansoviniana
In 1468, the great humanist scholar Cardinal Bessarion of Trebizond left his collection of Greek and Latin manuscripts to the state. Venice didn't get round to constructing a proper home for them until 1537. Jacopo Sansovino, a Florentine architect who had settled in Venice after fleeing from the Sack of Rome in 1527, was appointed to create the library, a splendid building right opposite the Palazzo Ducale. With this building, Sansovino brought the ambitious new ideas of the Roman Renaissance to Venice. He also appealed to the Venetian love of surface decoration by endowing his creation with an abundance of statuary. His original plan included a barrel-vault ceiling. This collapsed shortly after construction, however, and the architect was immediately clapped into prison. His rowdy friends Titian and Aretino had to lobby hard to have him released.
The working part of Venice's main library is now housed inside La Zecca and contains approximately 750,000 volumes and around 13,500 manuscripts, most of them Greek.
The main room has a magnificent ceiling, with seven rows of allegorical medallion paintings, produced by a number of Venetian Mannerist artists as part of a competition. Veronese's Music (sixth row from the main entrance) was awarded the gold chain by Titian. Beyond this is the ante-room, in which a partial reconstruction has been made of Cardinal Grimani's collection of classical statues, as arranged by Scamozzi (1596). On the ceiling is Wisdom, a late work by Titian. Don't miss Fra Mauro's map of the world (1459), a fascinating testimony to the great precision of Venice's geographical knowledge, with surprisingly accurate depictions of China and India.
There are occasional free guided tours in English; call 041 240 7241 for information.
More information about tickets and passes in Venice.