Visit to a Medieval Florentine private home, Palazzo Davanzati
Visit to Casa Horne, recreation of a Renaissance home by a British art historian and collector
Visit to a restauration atelier
AT HOME IN MEDIEVAL & RENAISSANCE FLORENCE
At Home in Medieval & Renaissance Florence. If you’re curious to know how Florentines lived in the 1300 or 1400es, how were their homes, how did they dress, how were their objects, how did they ate,
well, this is your tour!
Palazzo Davanzati, from the name of its third owners, was built by the wealthy Davizzi family (bankers and merchants) by restructuring two former tower houses, and is the best preserved example of late Gothic/early Renaissance private residence in Florence.
The façade is very tall and bears the coats or arms of the Davanzati family. By the windows there are some ‘R’shaped irons used to hang cages with birds, monkeys or other animals.
The three wide entrance arches were once opened to allow mules, donkeys and carriages into the elegantly designed courtyard to refurnish the house with oil, wine, food, timber: the owners had their own factories outside Florence.
In fact the ground floor part of the building was semi public. But 14th century Florence was a city of terrible rivalries between different political lobbies, and rich people homes like this had to be defended.
You can still see the system of pipes that could be used to throw from upper floors boiling oil or liquid lead on your enemies.
Another rarely preserved feature is the inbuilt well: rain water was collected by gutters and terra cotta pipes into a subterranean reservoir and, with a well designed system of pulleys and buckets could be conveniently transported to the three levels of the house.
Each floor of the house is provided with ‘toilet’ services (called ‘agiamenti’), while all the waste was collected in a subterranean cistern that was periodically emptied.
Each of the three floors has a large hall called ‘ sala madornale’, adjoining the main street, very luminous due to the 5 large windows.
However, it must be said that originally there were no window panes, but ‘impannate’, canvases imbued into turpentine oil or waxed, that could be opened towards the outside.
The sala madornale was used for important banquets and parties. However in the good season they would have preferred the open courtyard downstairs. The hooks on the walls were use to hang carpets or rich textiles to decorate and warm up the room.
In many rooms the original wall decoration still survives, with very bright geometrical patterns and coats of arms of different families.
Amongst the most outstanding rooms the large ‘bedroom of the Peacocks‘ on the first floor, with a magnificent 16th century wooden bed.
The ‘studiolo’ or study room on the second floor is worth a longer stay: there’s a delightful series of small paintings by Giovanni di Ser Giovanni nicknamed Lo Scheggia, who happened to be Masaccio’s brother. These late Gothic works of art narrate, with an evident love for details, lively street scenes in 15th century Florence.
Particularly fun is the one representing three boys playing a pretty violent game known as ‘Civettino’ .
On third floor is the kitchen. This location limited the risks of fire and allowed smoke and bad smells to stay away for the rest of the house. The furnishing is minimal. One of the most curious items here is the mechanical roaster.
On the very top an ‘altana’, a wide roof terrace.
Your guide will tell you about the vicissitudes of the palace, how it was rescued from the risk of demolition by an antiquarian in 1910, how the ‘Davanzati’ style became so famous in the USA antique dealers’ world, and which role it played after the terrible flood in 1966.
A stroll in the Medieval & Renaissance heart of Florence, with some stop at admiring some of the best preserved ‘tower houses’ will take us to Via de’Benci by Palazzo Corsi, better known today as ‘Horne Museum’.
Herbert Percy Horne was a British architect, art historian, designer, interested in music, literature, but, most important of all, a passionate collector, that
made of collecting a discipline of life, a religion of the spirit. At the center of his interests Medieval & Renaissance Florence.
He came initially to Florence to write a book about Botticelli, and settled down definitely in 1896. Although not particularly wealthy, he had a special skill at buying masterpieces for ridiculously low prices.
In 1904 he bought in London the work of art that was to become the gem of his collection: the St Stephen by Giotto for just 9 pounds !
He also used to deal with 16th and 17th century art just to make money to buy older pieces! In 1911 he finally bought Palazzo Corsi, a beautiful late 15th century home, with the intention
of giving the right setting to his 6,000 pieces collection. The idea was that of recreating in detail the atmosphere of Renaissance residence, not only through the major masterpieces, but above all through the myriad of objects of domestic life.
At his death in 1916 he bequeathed the house and the collection to the Italian State.
The house is left untouched, visitors are invited to enter this world and to forget for a while the 21st century outside.
If you feel like and if there’s still time after the Horne museum we will cross to Oltrarno for a brief visit to a restoration atelier.
We recommend our Medieval & Renaissance Florence tour to curious people of any age. Certainly instructive and fun for families with kids and teenagers.
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