With all the magnificent painting and sculpture on view here in Florence I was aware I had overlooked much of the architecture on display. It is an area where my knowledge is more sketchy than in the other visual arts, so on a day (finally) when the rain stopped I decided to set out and find and photograph some of the many palazzi on view.
I was familiar with the Medici and Strozzi palaces, commissioned by the main two rival families of the city, but, as I checked through my guidebook for any sights I have thus far overlooked, a number of less familiar palazzi were listed. Furthermore, as I set off on my walk I came across numerous other examples on virtually every street! Some are museums or gallery spaces, others house luxury boutiques or hotels. How to structure this article then?
I’m not aiming for this to be educational; there are plenty of excellent books available for that purpose. I merely wanted to record some of what I found on my walk and share it. One could make a case for ordering the buildings described by date of construction, architect or order of ‘importance’ but I’m choosing simply to place them in the order in which I came across them as I walked from the Duomo through the centro storico to the Oltrarno, a walk of some 90 minutes with plenty of photo stops.
Firstly, perhaps fittingly so is the Medici palace, commissioned by Cosimo il Vecchio from Michelozzo and built between 1444 and 1484. In many ways the archetypal palace it has three floors whose stonework changes from large blocks on the ground floor to finer stonework on the top. This tripartite elevation reflects the Renaissance ideals of harmony and rationality. At ground level there used to be open loggias but these were replaced by ‘kneeling windows’ designed by Michaelangelo.
The courtyard has a colonnaded arcade with roundels sculpted by Donatello.
Moving on from here I next came to the Palazzo Strozzi di Mantova. This building was constructed in the 13th century during transfer of buildings for reconstruction of the Duomo, to which it is immediately adjacent. It houses government offices.
Palazzo Antinori was built in 1461-69, designed by Giuliano da Mariano. It has previously housed the British Institute of Florence, with whom I am currently studying. The top two floors are occupied by members of the family, the ground floor is a wine bar.
Palazzo Larderel was completed in 1580 by Giovanni Antonio Dosio. Having passed through various Florentine owners it was bought by a French count in 1764. An apartment inside is available for rent.
Palazzo Strozzi is the largest palazzo in Florence and an arresting sight. The Strozzi family were rivals to the Medici and this is a clear statement of intent, both in scale and the fortress like appearance. It was begun in 1489 by Benedetto da Maiano but not completed until 1583. As soon as it was completed it was confiscated by Duke Cosimo I, the Medici ruler of Florence, who held it for thirty years.
The resemblance to the Medici Palace is clear in terms of the rustification and tripartite structure; however, Palazzo Medici has only two faces whereas this giant is a freestanding structure. Walking around it is the best way to appreciate its scale.
There is a large inner courtyard. The palazzo hosts art exhibitions.
Palazzo Ruccellai is a fifteenth century townhouse designed by Leon Battista Alberti and built between 1446 and 1451 by Bernardo Rossellini. It has a beautiful facade typifying Renaissance ideals, with embedded pilasters and entablatures. The structure has great harmony and beauty.
Palazzo Spini Feroni is of gothic design with its beginnings way back to 1289. At the time it was the largest private residence in the city. Its fortress like appearance harks back to the violent past of medieval Florence. After a spell as state offices during Florence’s reign as capital of the United Italy, it now enjoys a role hosting a shop and museum for the shoe designer Salvatore Ferragamo.
Palazzo Gianfigliazzi is a Romanesque style tower previously owned by a Guelph supporting family; when they were overcome by Ghibelline supporters the tower was demolished and then rebuilt by the Gianfigliazzi family who lived there until 1760. Subsequently it was an artists academy and now is an upmarket tourist residence while the ground floor houses a Dior boutique.
Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni is the archetypal High Renaissance building being built between 1520 and 1523 by Baccio d’Agnolo, a contemporary and friend of Michaelangelo. The titular family lived here until the 19th century then it became a hotel, where Herman Melville once stayed. It is now again private property.
Architecturally, the style is Roman, with pilasters supporting window pediments which alternate between triangular and rounded. The use of rustification is limited to the corners. Interestingly the style was unpopular at the time, including with Giorgio Vasari.
Palazzo Buondelmonti stands next to Bartoloni Salimbeni in Piazza Santa Trinita. Typical of patrician family residences developed at the end of the fifteenth century one can still rent a studio apartment here.
In the nineteenth century this was a Mecca for expatriate writers including James Fenimore Cooper, Dostoevsky, John Ruskin and Robert Browning.
Apparently, moving to less lofty circles, in ‘Inferno’ by Dan Brown, Robert Langdon relates the tale of the murder of Buondelmonte de’Buondelmonti as ‘Florence’s bloodiest murder’. No, me neither, guess I’ll need to revisit either the book or the film.
Palazzo Davanzati remains open as a museum which retains the character of a family home of the period; it’s one of the few museums I haven’t visited yet. It was built in the mid-14th century. After falling into disarray it was bought by an antique dealer and opened as a museum in 1910.
The facade was formed by grouping together a number of early medieval tower houses. The open loggia on top is a 16th century feature.
Palazzo Giandonati is from the 14th and 15th centuries and stands adjacent to…
Palazzo del’Arte Della Seta, the 14th century Hall of the Silk Guild. Both are squeezed together in a small narrow street only a few meters across. Then as now, space in central Florence was at a premium.
I now moved across to the Oltrarno. First I came across the Palazzo di Bianca Capello. The titular lady was an Italian nobelwoman who became the second wife of Francesco I de Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany. He acquired this house for her in 1566 and asked Bernardo Buontalenti to refurbish it. The facade is beautifully decorated.
The building now houses archives and books of the Gabinetto Vieusseux.
The next three building sit side by side opposite Bianca Cappella in Via Maggio.
Palazzo Michelozzi dates from the second half of the fifteenth century and has a simple facade wherein an arched portal is flanked by aediculed windows. Above are two bays of six plain arched windows.
Palazzo Martellini was first recorded in 1260; its current outlay dates to the sixteenth century. It is now used as a hostel.
Palazzo Ricasoli Firidolfi was built in 1520 by Baccio d’Agnolo and has been owned by a succession of Florentine families.
Palazzo Guadagni is a 16th century building designed by Il Cronaca and now in use as a luxury hotel. It was the first in the city to use an open loggia. Its location in peaceful Piazza Santo Spirito is one of my favourite in Florence.
My journey ends at Palazzo Lanfredini, now home to the British Institute’s Harold Acton Library where my lectures take place. The building was constructed in 1501 under the design of Baccio d’Agnolo. The facade is more uniform than most palazzi with the focus on grotesque figures and coats of arms decorating the building, here seen from across the Arno.There are many other wonderful buildings to see in this wonderful city. I hope you enjoyed seeing some with me and I apologise if I missed out any of your favourites!