Wednesday, 4 May 2016

A Special Encounter - By Charley Ladee

As I walk along Via dei Leoni, the rusticated façade of a majestic Florentine palazzo looms up. “Should I just ring the bell? Which of the thirteen options would it be?” Suddenly, a rather neat looking gatekeeper opens the door. In my broken Italian I tell him that I’ve come to see the Marchesa, Vittoria Gondi Citernesi.

Palazzo Gondi in Florence (for picture credits see below)

Standing in the cortile, I am surrounded by architecture enriched with decorations that evidences Gondi-ownership; the inscribed stone fountain, the motifs on the staircase, and the multiple escutcheons that all bear the Gondi coat of arms. Moreover Giuliano Gondi’s (1421-1501) personal device, flaming diamonds in each of the staircase’s steps, communicate his ownership to visitors as they ascend. Allegorical motifs and a cornucopia endorse the patron’s wealth. At the same time the letters ‘SIN’, referring to the Gondi motto ‘Non Sine Labore’, suggest that this wealth did certainly not come without effort.

Gondi coat of arms (for picture credits see below)

Look, there she is, the Marchesa. Dressed in fancy clothes, as am I. We greet each other as she takes me upstairs to see the camino, a beautifully sculpted fireplace by Giuliano da Sangallo (1443-1516), the designer of the palazzo. Unfortunately we do not ascend the staircase I just mentioned, but a small elevator in another part of the palazzo. Whilst crossing a few rooms so well-decorated and furnished you could spend an entire day in them, the Marchesa guides me towards the enormous salone that houses the camino. The walls comprise monumental portraits of prominent family members – dukes, bishops, marshals, and so on. As I turn around, Sangallo’s enormous sculptural masterpiece appears into my field of view. “What an imposing presence this is!” Vittoria Gondi, very intent on sharing her family history, starts elaborating on the accomplishments of her depicted forefathers. After a while, I’m allowed to take some pictures (‘for personal use only!’) and ask some questions. Altogether, a unique glimpse of a late quattrocento Florentine family dwelling.

Giuliano da Sangallo's camino (for picture credits see below)

Palazzo Gondi illustrates a unique, though characteristic image of the patronage of the Florentine family. Commissions like these, displaying the family’s stature, were not uncommon amongst high-class families, though solely restricted to the wealthiest of citizens. In the case of the Gondi, they gained their position among Florentine patricians by being successful businessmen, operating internationally with their battiloro company. Diplomatic and commercial skill gained them a good political and financial position, in Florence as well as in other cities. For them, art and architecture seemed as a means to communicate their status to the outside world. Commissioning the palazzo and a chapel in the Santa Maria Novella, Giuliano started this trend in the late quattrocento. Subsequent generations distinguished themselves with their sumptuous art collections.

For the Patrician Patronage Project I researched the Gondi as patrons for the arts in cinquecento Florence. More specifically, I essayed how their commissions and collections manifest their purpose and their position within the political and cultural climate of contemporary Florence. Obviously the internship with the PPP acquainted me with new insights and experiences, and a wonderful period of three months I got to spend in the lovely city that is Florence.

Picture credits:
Palazzo Gondi in Florence: 01_storia/01.jpg
Gondi coat of arms: storia_00.jpg
Giuliano da Sangallo's camino:

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To read more about Charley's research, follow this link!

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