Posts Tagged ‘History of Florence’

Some friends recently invited me to join them on a visit to the Villa Medici in Poggio a Caiano, about fifteen miles west of Florence. What an incredible surprise.

This makes for an easy day excursion from Florence city center, by train, to an historic palazzo and beautiful small village in Tuscany.

Why visit?

Read on. This gorgeous Renaissance palazzo contains some of the finest art commissioned by the Medici family; from the time of Cosimo the Elder to Lorenzo de Medici (Il Magnifico) to the Grand Dukes. An additional ‘treat’ is that admission is FREE.

Facade Poggio a Caiano

Facade Poggio a Caiano


It was in 1420 that Palla Strozzi began acquiring land and buildings from the Cancellieri, the office of the administration, in Florence. It is at this time we find the name Poggio a Caiano mentioned for the first time in a few historical documents next to the names of Bonistallo and Caiano.

In 1488 another famous Florentine family began to show an interest in the area when Giovanni Rucellai purchased the possessions, buildings and houses of Poggio a Caiano.

The history of the city, however, has remained tied to another, even more illustrious and celebrated family, that of the Medici.

By 1431 Cosimo dè Medici had bought six farms in the region. His grandson Lorenzo the Magnificent purchased more property in the area including all of the surrounding estates, began to build the Villa, initiated a complex project to contain flood waters by means of canals and stabilization of the banks of the Ombrone River and upgrading farming techniques on the estates north of the river.

In 1477, work began in earnest on what was to become the farm of  Poggio a Caiano – Tavola. Many highly skilled craftsmen moved to Poggio a Caiano, including masons, carpenters, furniture makers and artists. This colony of skilled labor constituted the nucleus of the town that was born as a “factory” for the Villa.

Franciabigio, Return of Cicerone from Exile 1519-21_ca._with additions by Alori, 1578-82_ca.)_01

Franciabigio, Return of Cicerone from Exile (1519-1521) with later additions by Alori (1578 – 1582).

Over time, Lorenzo and one of his sons who became Pope Leo X, commissioned artists as famous as Alori and Pontromo to create frescoes for the great rooms, especially the ballroom, of the villa.

pontormo Vertumnus and Pomona Poggio

Jacopo Pontormo, Vertumnus and Pomona (1520-1521)

The main ballroom, also referred to as the Room of Leo X, is a startling and unforgettable surprise.

Room of Pope Leo X Poggio a Caiano

Ballroom or Room of Leo X Frescoes by Alori, Pontormo, Franciabigio and others (15th, 16th and 17th Centuries)

Poggio’s location, between Florence and Pistoia, and the presence of the Villa Medici (which remained after the end of the Medici dynasty the summer home of first the Hapsburg-Lorraine and then of the House of Savoia-Italy’s first King used this palace as a country home after the unification of Italy) helped to maintain the prosperity of the small town.

Menerous rooms in many Medicean villas were filled with Still Life paintings; in Italian, Natura Morta. The Medici family was very passionate about cataloging the numerous varieties of vegetables and fruits grown in Tuscany.

Bartolomeo Bimbi Limoni Poggio a Caiano

Bartolomeo Bimbi, Limone (1715) Catalog of the many different types of lemons available on the estate and in Tuscany (Note the ‘shield’with the reference numbers below the painting.)

These innumerable paintings have been collected in to one museum at the Villa Poggio a Caiano. You should absolutely be sure to reserve in advance your entrance time for this unique collection of art.

A dear friend, Carla Geri Camporesi and her co writer Barbara Golini, who used to live near Florence in Impruneta, wrote a cookbook featuring many of these paintings along with recipes of the time. Even though written in Italian, the quality of the photographs alone are worth adding this volume to your collection.

From The Art of the Medicis to the Tables of Today

There is no charge to visit the collection of still life paintings, yet you must reserve with the villa directly to enter. Please see details below.


Scacciati (1642) Flowers - Poggio

Andrea Scacciati, Flowers (1642) Poggio a Caiano

At the End of World War II:

During the retreat of the German army in August of 1944, the city of Poggio a Caiano was heavily damaged by artillery fire. Many lives were lost in the town. The villa became a refuge to villagers who hoped for protection inside the estate’s walls.

Manetti’s famous iron bridge, one of the best examples of an early 19th Century suspension bridge with cables made of iron, was destroyed by the German Army. Only the two large stone entrance towers for the bridge remain.

After the war, Poggio became one of the principal centers for the art of straw weaving (braids, hats, etc.), or paglia: many of you may remember the straw braided Chianti bottles of years ago.

Post-war development was culminated by the separation of Poggio a Caiano from the nearby city of Carmignano. The comune of Poggio a Caiano became its own separate city on July 14, 1962.

Camignano, a mostly agricultural community challenged by a textile economy, suffered from the general crisis felt throughout agriculture in Italy in the last part of the 20th century.

Poggio a Caiano, however, with its fortunate location between Prato, Pistoia and Florence increased its development in industry and handcrafts, eventually becoming part of the wool and textile industry centered in Prato.

Poggio a Caiano


Located about 20 minutes outside of Florence by train.

Trains to Signa depart regularly (generally at :16 and :53 past the hour) from the Santa Maria Novella station in Florence. The trip takes about eighteen minutes. Train fare, each way, is Euro 2.60 per person.

Taxi fare from the Signa train station to Poggio a Caiano averages Euro 18 per taxi. This is the easiest way to enjoy a day excursion from Florence without the hassle of driving, parking and possible fines!

If you are in the area for lunch, I highly recommend:

Il Falcone, Piazza XX Settembre, 35,Poggio a Caiano, Italy

Tel: +39.055.877.065

Hours: (Closed Wednesdays)

Lunch 12.00 – 14.00
Dinner  19.30 – 21.30

Fabulous food, great service, warm atmosphere, fair prices and a very good wine list!

Villa Visiting Hours

Admission: FREE

Opening hours:
8.15 – 16,30 (November – February)
8.15 – 17,30 (March and October)
8.15 – 18,30 (April, May and September)
8.15 – 19,30 (June – August)
Closed on the 2nd and 3rd Monday of each month, New Year’s Day, May 1st and Christmas Day.

PLEASE NOTE: To vist the Museum of Still Life (Naatura Morta) it is necessary to book an entrance time by calling the Museum office at +

CONTACT US! If you are interested in any of our small group explorations of Italy, please send an email to private_italy@hotmail.com. One of our staff will reply to your inquiry as quickly as possible. We hope to share “our” bella Italia with you! Thank you for reading and following our travel blog.


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palazzo davazatti florence

Palazzo Davanzati Florence

I have walked past this imposing Renaissance palazzo for many years, paying little heed to what, at the time, I thought was just another historic building in Florence. Talk about being wrong!

The Palazzo Davanzati is now a gorgeous, living museum. Rooms, frescoes and furniture from the Renaissance have all been beautifully restored. What visitors experience is a sense of being in a wealthy Florentine family’s home and come to better understand how those families lived.

The Palace was built by the Davizzi family in 1365. The property passed through various family members. In 1578 financial difficulties required that the palazzo be sold. The Davanzati family purchased the building and it remained in their hands until the early 19th Century.

Due to the palazzo’s size, it was decided that is should best be used as apartments. This reconstruction’ caused a great deal of damage to the original structure.

In 1904, a famous Italian antiques collector, Elia Volpi, purchased and restored the entire building. He furnished the palazzo in period pieces of furniture and opened it to the public as a museum of the home . Financial challenges caused Signor Volpi to sell off the majority of the original furniture. Along came Vitale and Leopoldo Bengujat, also antique dealers, who purchased the home in 1927 and for a few years successfully operated the museum.

Elia Volpi

Elia Volpi (with thanks to Palazzo Davanzati archives)

Financial ruin eventually faced the Bengujat brothers and, in 1940, the museum was sold to the state. The basement of the structure was made in to a bomb shelter and, after the war, the palazzo languished, nearly forgotten.

In 1951, the building was purchased by the Italian government and, in 1956, a new refurnished and restored palazzo was again opened to the public. In April of 2010, the museum was reopened to much fanfare, having been completed renovated, renewed and restored.

The Palazzo – Exterior

The exterior of the building has undergone numerous changes. The original arched loggia that was at the ground level of the building and used as a store, was closed in during the late 15th Century. In the 16th century, the owners enclosed the top level and formed a lovely arched private loggia for the family’s use.

Fresco Palazzo Davanzati

Palazzo Davanzati

The Palazzo – Interior

You enter the palazzo at the street level into a lovely open atrium. The four upper floors have open walkways and balconies which permit visitors to view down into the small courtyard of the palazzo. The construction of the home is true to the time of its original occupation with terracotta used in the ceilings to support the upper floors and many beautiful frescoes on the walls.

The most beautiful rooms are the Sala dei Pappagalli (The Parrot Room) and the Bedroom with scenes of the life of the Lady of Vergi.

parrott room davanzatti

“Parrot Room” Palazzo Davanzati

stairwell davanzati

Stairway and hall, Palazzo Davanzati


Palazzo Davanzati

Via Porta Rossa, 13  50123 Florence, Italy

Tel: +

Entrance Tickets: Euro 4.00 per person

Open hours:

Monday – Sunday, 8:15AM to- 1:50PM

Closed the 2nd and 4th Sunday of the month

Closed the 1st, 3rd and 5th Monday of the month

Please note that as of this writing, those requiring a wheel chair or who cannot climb stairs will find that they only have access to the ground floor of the palazzo.

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Bargello View from Uffizi Firenze

Museo Nazionale del Bargello Florence – View from Uffizi Gallery

On an early spring day in 1475, a young girl sat on a stool in the workshop of the Italian master, Andrea del Verrocchio.  A fresh bouquet of wildflowers had been given to her just before she sat in the master’s studio.

Born Andrea di Michele di Francesco de’ Cioni, Verrocchio was well known in the halls of Medici power in Florence during the early Renaissance. His study of this particular young girl rests on a stand in what is now called the Sale Verrocchio  – a small second floor gallery in the Bargello Museum in Florence.

The question that, even today, occupies the minds of many art critics and historians about Verrochio’s bust of that Tuscan girl is “Who created the bust of Dama col Mazzolino?”

Museo del Bargello, in the heart of Florence’s Medieval city center, seems an austere and perplexing location for yet another extraordinary collection of art. This was the seat of the Podesta, the Chief magistrate of the city for centuries and the place of execution for nearly an equal number of years.  Bargello’s imposing crenelated tower, which competes in scale with its nearby neighbor the Badia Fiorentina (Abbey of Florence),  pierces the skyline of the city.

To climb the long exterior staircase of the courtyard is to literally rise above Michelangelo (a collection of Buonarotti’s works occupies the ground floor gallery) and arrive in the the midst of invaluable art patronage: Donatello’s David, the gallery of the Della Robbia workshops, and much more.


Main Stairway Bargello Florence

Many visitors to the Bargello are, by the time they arrive at the Sale Verrocchio (The Verrocchio Room), too tired to pay much attention to the beauty of the works contained therein. The late afternoon sun shimmers through the wave-aged windows as noise rises from the streets below and on top of fatigue, the heat often erodes interest. My advice? Take a break and study, in particular, this singular cinnamon-hued marble masterpiece.

Dama col Mazzolino

Dama col Mazzolino

Now, the mystery.

One of Verrocchio’s students was a young man from the village of Vinci, one Leonardo. Verrocchio also worked with Perugino, Botticelli and Ghirlandaio – an incredible collection of the best artists of the day.

As art historians have studied the young woman, a number of experts began to doubt that only Verrocchio, and perhaps not Verrocchio at all, carved the bust. On several of Leonardo’s works there is a nearly identical style to the hands he painted.

Here are some examples, next to the Damma Col Mazzolino.

Verrochio Hands

Damma Col Mazzolino
Hand Study
Verrocchio 1475

Lady With An Ermine Da Vincie 1489-1490

Hands-Lady with an Ermine-DaVinci 1490

Note the striking similarity in the position of the hands. The elongated stretch of the fingers are nearly identical. One additional remarkable note about the resemblance of Da Vinci and Verrocchio’s work are from Da Vinci’s most famous fresco, Il Cenacolo, the Last Supper in the refectory of Santa Maria della Grazie Convent in Milan.

During a recent visit to that Convent, I noticed the hands of St. Phillip, who stands three disciples to the left of Christ in Da Vinci’s fresco.


Hands of Phillipus
Il Cenocolo, Da Vinci

Note, again, the nearly identical position of the saint’s right hand in this fresco to the hands in the works detailed above. Was it simply coincidence that these similarities exist? Many art historians and critics believe that if Leonard did not actually carve the hands (at a minimum) on the young girl holding flowers, Verrocchio’s influence on Da Vinci’s style was both remarkable and deep.

Such, perhaps, is the ‘science’ of art. While technologically advanced equipment can assess the age and condition of works of men and women, the true gift of the artist is in the mystery of their vision. Whether you agree with the discourse on these works of art, I believe those who take the time to study them will come to more deeply understand the effect of the Florentine masters, and their studios, on their students.

My vision, when I study the young Tuscan girl in that small gallery in Florence, is of a young Leonardo, fired by talent and desire, absorbing and learning from every mark of his master’s chisel, every stroke of paint on canvas. Da Vinci’s contemporaries, like Perugino and Ghirlandaio, were at hand to watch, sketch and stare in wonder at the creative energy so perfectly expressed by their teacher. Each of Verrocchio’s pupils learned to create their own work, while paying homage to the genius of the man who taught them.

I will conclude this post with two images. One by Verrocchio, discussed in this blog, and the other by one of Verrocchio’s students.

Yet another opportunity to compare and consider the comparative work of masters: Verrocchio and . . ?

AII58286Girl - by Verrocchio Studen

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A beautiful hilltop retreat, and the gardens of a Medici Villa, beckons from the valley of Florence. This easy day trip north from Florence takes you directly to both the Abbey of Monte Senario and the Villa Demidoff Parco di Pratolino. These are two little-known corners of Tuscany, rarely visited by tourists.

View of Monte Senario

A brief history:

Monte Senario, as it is now called, was one a wild, untamed, place where winds whistled through limestone caverns and wolves prowled the land. In the midst of religious upheaval in Florence, seven friars began a long and arduous journey in search of retreat, a place where they would avoid the temptations of the city.

Hilltops in the Mugello, directly north of Florence, attracted the friars. It would be in the beautiful hills of that area, they believed, they would find the best, remote, location for their hermitage. Their struggles were rewarded when, in 1241, they reached the top of Monte (as it was called at the time) Sonario – named for sounds made by winds in local limestone formations. The small group immediately went to work on a house that would serve as their retreat.

Over the centuries, the Servite order (named for their dedication to serve the Holy Mother) friars have built a large Basilica and many other buildings on their property.

Why go? The hills north of Florence are famous for their beauty. Winding roads cut through forests, pass along vineyards and provide visitors incredible views. Between Florence and Monte Senario, you pass the gates of another famous Tuscan Villa, Pratolino.

Built by Francesco I, First Grand Duke of Tuscany, the villa was completed in 1581. Designed by Buontalenti, Francesco’s favored architect and landscape designer, the villa has recently been restored. Why did Francesco choose such a remote site for this villa? His mistress, Bianca Capello, desired a county home.  The gardens were completed before Francesco’s marriage to Bianca in 1579.

Colossus of the Apennines
Parco Pratolino

Gardens with monumental statuary, including one of “The Colossus of the Apennines” over twelve feet tall, provide a shady and cooling retreat for visitors. The gardens evoke a sense of Romanticism, an intentional decadence and decay that still attract those fascinated by Italian, specifically Tuscan, gardens. The original Pratolino gardens were categorized “Mannerist”, a style that includes water features and statuary with water hydraulic systems that animate man-made structures such as doors, gates and playful water games.

After Francesco’s and Bianca’s deaths, the villa fell into disrepair. It was, after over 100 years of abandonment, that the villa was demolished. Leopold II, former Grand Duke of Tuscany, sold the property to a Yugoslavian prince, Pavel Pavlovich Demidov.

Villa Demidoff
1872 Restoration

He wished to have a residence on the grounds and set about restoring the original building where the Pages that served Francesco and Bianca lived. Hence, the current name of Villa Demidoff.

He also had the gardens redesigned in the English style. While retaining some of the large sculptures that were built at the time of the Medici, he focused on simplifying the layout of the gardens so that they were easier to both maintain and explore. The property, which the prince expanded from approximately fifty acres to nearly two-hundred, is now the property of the province of Tuscany.

The grounds, park and villa are truly worth a stop during your travels further north to the Monte Senario complex.

So it is on an easy day trip from Florence. From the remains of a powerful Medici Grand Duke and the moneyed influence of a Yugoslavian prince you arrive at a place of retreat and sacrifice where friars gave everything away in dedication to their religious beliefs.


Villa Demidoff and Parco Pratolino

Vaglia, Via Fiorentina 282

Tel: 39.055.408.0734 or 39.055.408.0777 (office)

Tel: 39.055.409.427 (Reception)


from April 1, 2018: All Fridays through Sundays 10:00am – 8:00pm. Beginning October 1, the park closes at 6:00PM.

The park is closed for national holidays with the exception of Liberation Day (April 25th) and Labor Day (May 1st).  The park is open on these two Sundays even though they are National Holidays.

You can request special visits during the week and obtain other information via email:


Visits during the week there is a charge for visits. Please request further details directly from the management via email listed above.

Visits are free of charge


Driving Directions

From Florence, driver to the Piazza della Libertá

As you enter the Piazza, watch for overhead sings in the direction of Mugello, Pratolino and Bologna (Old State road to Bologna, North)

Stay on SR 65 and you will arrive at Pratolino. The car park is on your left, directly across from the main gate of the Villa/Park property

Take SR Route 65 NORTH toward Pratolino.


To return to Florence, return on the same route, headed south

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