Tuesday, 24 May 2016

Behind closed doors - By Lotte van ter Toolen

With its high walls and few windows, Via Senese number 101 might trick the inattentive passer-by into thinking it to be a fortress. However, as the sign next to the door indicates, this large and uninviting building is in fact a former fourteenth-century convent, which behind its walls still holds the church of San Gaggio. 

Via Senese 101, Florence
Last summer I stood in front of this building. Although the sign next to the door clearly stated this to be an ex-convento and informed me that the monuments it once held had been moved to Santo Spirito, and although a furtive glance through the slit of the mailbox had revealed that the stone steps leading to the inner courtyard was overgrown with weeds, I rang the bell.
            It was my research for the Patrician Patronage Project that had brought me here, which concerned the patronage of the Corsini family. Knowing that this family had acted as protector of the convent for centuries, and that especially in the sixteenth century they had commissioned many artworks, I was curious to see what proof remained of their patronage. After all, the monuments and paintings had been removed, but it was very well possible that some other decorations, such as depictions of coats of arms in relief for example, were still visible references to this family.

Not entirely to my surprise, there was no response to my ringing the doorbell. Then my eye fell on another, smaller door, which had a doorbell as well. Needless to say, I rang it, and this time I had more luck. A very small old woman, wearing a floral dress and a floral apron, opened the door. On my asking if she knew whether it would be possible to visit the church of San Gaggio, she told me that it had been closed since 1999 and that since then no-one visited the church anymore (except the guards of the vigilanza every now and then, and a great amount of pigeons). Touched by my eager interest in the former convent, she invited me to come inside, which I refused politely until she explained that her house gave entrance to the inner courtyard of the old convent. Plus, she wished to show me a photograph of her grandchildren. 

Through a dark corridor, past dressers cluttered with lots of photographs and porcelain, the old woman led me first to the kitchen, to turn off the small television that was blaring Italian news, and then led me into the garden. I had expected to have to peek over a fence to catch a glimpse of the San Gaggio, but there stood nothing between the old woman’s garden and the church’s courtyard except a neatly filled clothesline. Indeed, the walled courtyard was her garden. 


While I crossed the square, which was overgrown with weeds, I noticed the stone steps leading to the main gate, where I had rang the bell first. San Gaggio’s doors were all tightly closed, but I did find the Corsini coat of arms above one of the windows and the remainders of a painting dating from the fourteenth century above the main door. 
            The kind old woman stood waiting for me in her doorway on the other side of the courtyard with a bottle of iced tea, which we shared at her kitchen table while she showed me the pictures of her grandchildren. I didn’t know what I thought I would find, ringing her doorbell earlier, but certainly not this. Being an art historian can open many doors, but not always the ones you expect.

(Photos: author)

- - - 
Click here to read part two of this blog!

No comments: