Saturday, 14 January 2017

Palazzo Torrigiani già del Nero Part 2 - by Prof Dr Henk Th. Van Veen

After Agostino del Nero had bought Roberto Nasi’s unfinished new palazzo in 1552, he hired Domenico di Baccio d’Agnolo, Baccio’s most talented son, to finish the job. In the second edition of his Le Vite de’ più eccellenti pittori, scultori ed architettori (1568), Giorgio Vasari wrote that for Agostino, Domenico had made on the Piazza de’Mozzi ‘the corner parts and a beautiful terrace to those houses of the Nasi that his father Baccio had already started to build’ (‘[…] in sulla piazza de’ Mozzi le cantonate, ed un bellissimo terrazzo a quelle case de’ Nasi già cominciate da Baccio suo Padre’). However, Domenico cannot have accomplished much, because he already died a year after Agostino had hired him. In documents on Palazzo del Nero, Valentina Catalucci recently found that Agostino had Davide Fortini, an architect who did important engineering projects for the Medici, work on the palazzo.* I gather that Fortini succeeded Domenico as architect of the palazzo and that what Vasari described was all his doing. Leonardo Ginori Lisci, author of the standard work on Florentine palazzi**, recognized the building as described by Vasari, in a print with the Del Nero genealogical tree from 1590. (fig. 1)

Fig. 1 Print of the Del Nero family tree – with the palazzo Del Nero.
For picture credits see below.
He identified Vasari’s ‘cantonate’ with the pictured building’s protruding corners, and his ‘bellissimo terrazzo’ with the splendid loggia by which it is crowned. However, as we shall now see, things were not as Ginori Lisci thought they were. In 1561, in the Sala di Clemente VII in Palazzo Vecchio, Vasari painted his renowned panoramic view of the siege of Florence in 1530. What has gone unnoticed in the literature on the palazzo, is Vasari’s depiction of the building in this fresco. (fig. 2)

Fig. 2 Detail of Vasari's Siege of Florence of 1530 (1561) with palazzo Del Nero.
Here, the palazzo looks quite different from the building as it is represented in the 1590 print. It has two wings that are placed at a right angle. Surely, it is to this palazzo that Vasari was referring in his Vite. With his ‘cantonate’, then, he must have meant the palazzo’s riverside wing as a whole, for this wing must have been the part of the building that, when Baccio died, still had to be constructed. As the two facades of the palace that are shown on the fresco do not feature the ‘bellissimo terrazzo’ Vasari is speaking of (the light paint Vasari applied on the corner of the riverside wing does not represent air, but a whitewashed part of the wall), this must have been situated on the building’s opposite, northern or eastern facade.  

The question now is, by whose action and for what reason the palazzo, was transformed into the imposing building that is shown in the 1590 print. To the first question, Francesco Bocchi’s Le Bellezze di Firenze (1591) provides the answer. Bocchi relates that Tommaso del Nero himself had acted as the architect of his father’s palazzo. It is therefore only logical to suppose that the 1590 print shows the result of this activity. By confronting the print to the fresco, we can gain a fairly precise impression of what Tommaso’s project amounted to. He had the southern end of the palace reconstructed to form a counterpart to the riverside wing. Between these two wings, to the west, he had a new wing built, which he provided with the palazzo’s main facade that gave on the park, the Prato del Nero. Through this intervention, Tommaso had made his father’s two-winged building into a four-winged palazzo with a cortile at its centre. Remarkable about this edifice was that it had its stately facade at its backside and that it was mounted by a loggia that ran over its northern, eastern and southern wings. At its two ends, this loggia opened onto the roof of the new western wing, which was built into a terrace fenced by balustrades. The detailed, if somewhat fragmentary description Bocchi gave of Tommaso’s intervention accords well with what we see on the 1590 print, especially as regards the palazzo’s west wing. (fig. 3)

Fig. 3 Detail of the palazzo Del Nero - from figure 1.
Bocchi wrote that for that side Tommaso designed a facade ‘with beautiful windows and in its centre the spectator is drawn towards an elegant gallery, that corresponds to the great hall and is adorned with a balustrade and is extraordinary beautiful.’ (‘Sono le finestre bellissime in suo sembiante e nel mezzo della facciata ride (perché è ottimamente divisato) un leggiadro ballatoio, che risponde nel salone, adorno di balaustri et oltra modo vago.’). Strangely enough, in his description of the palazzo, Bocchi does not make any mention of Domenico di Baccio nor of the interventions by Davide Fortini. He only mentions Baccio d’Agnolo: ‘the design for his building was made by Baccio d’Agnolo and with his plan the rooms were made that answered to the public road’ (‘fu dato il disegno di questa fabbrica da Baccio d’Agnolo e con suo ordine furono condotte le stanze, che rispondono in su la via publica’). Bocchi alleged that Baccio’s rooms were situated on the ground floor only (‘che son da basso’). All the rest of the palazzo was, according to Bocchi, Tommaso’s doing: ‘the other [rooms], which are many, were designed by Tommaso del Nero, the young son of Agostino, with beautiful grace, as one can see’ (‘le altre, che sono molte, sono state divisate da Tommaso del Nero, figliuolo di Agostino, con bellissima grazia, come si vede’). Clearly, Bocchi’s knowledge of the palazzo’s building history was lacunose, for his account does not square with the visual information on the palazzo as provided by Vasari’s fresco of 1561. Obviously, the palazzo as depicted by Vasari could not have been designed by Tommaso: he was only 16 years old then.

Tommaso’s renewal and enlargement of the palazzo gave him the opportunity to make the ‘salons and halls with beautiful and rich architecture’ (‘salotti e sale ordinate con bella, e ricca architettura’) that Bocchi is speaking of, and there were so many of them, that ‘a very great number of people can splendidly go about there’ (‘grandissimo numero di huomini si possono nobilmente adagiare’). Most of these stately rooms will have been situated in the palazzo’s new western wing.

Bocchi does not mention when exactly Tommaso realized this grand project for his father, but in documents from 1569 relating to the palazzo, Valentina Catalucci found evidence for sudden, grand-scale building activities having been begun in that year. Quite probably, these activities had everything to do with Pope Pius V bestowing the title of barone di Porcigliano on Agostino and Tommaso the year before. Apparently, father and son were eager to show their newly acquired status by renewing and enlarging their palazzo, even if this had just been completed. Agostino entrusted his son, who at the time was only 24 years old, with the project. How daunting his task was, can be inferred from the fact that the new palazzo was only finished in 1576. By that time, Tommaso had already been dead for four years. His father, however, lived to see the work completed.  

We have already seen that, in choosing the location for his palazzo, Agostino had taken the Roman palazzo Altoviti as his example. Now Tommaso’s project shows that, when it came to deciding about the new palazzo Del Nero’s form and lay-out, he directed his attention to this same palazzo. Bocchi writes that Tommaso’s palazzo ‘is divided into two houses, as is shown on the outside by the two portals and the many windows’ (‘È diviso questo palazzo in due casamenti, come di fuori mostrano le due porte e le molte finestre’). The same division could be seen in palazzo Altoviti, which also had a portal on either side of its eastern facade. (fig. 4). 

Fig. 4 Old photograph of the east facade of palazzo Altoviti.
Another feature that palazzo Del Nero borrowed from palazzo Altoviti, was the conspicuous roof loggia. Admittedly, Palazzo Altoviti’s roof loggia had paired instead of single columns, but, as on palazzo Del Nero, it crowned its northern, its eastern as well as its southern wings. (fig. 5) In the nineteenth century, this loggia was filled in. 

Fig. 5 Palazzo Altoviti shortly before its demolishment.
What conspicuously lacked from palazzo’s Del Nero’s Arno facade, is the loggetta that so prominently figured on palazzo Altoviti’s Tiber facade. This three-tiered loggetta, sometimes attributed to the famous architect Giacomo Barozzi da Vignola, Bindo had ordered to be built against the adjacent houses that, in 1552/53, he had bought and attached to his palazzo. The loggetta rested on four arched pillars that rose from the river bank. It formed one whole with the salon, or loggia, that Bindo had projected onto the Tiber facade and that he had asked Vasari to profusively decorate with frescoes. Presumably, Tommaso found palazzo Del Nero’s Arno wing and facade too narrow to follow his uncle’s example Instead, he applied Bindo’s device of a salone-cum-loggetta in his new west wing, as is made clear by the 1590 print and by Bocchi’s words, cited here above, namely that the spectator viewing palazzo Del Nero’s west facade was drawn to ‘an elegant gallery, that corresponds to the great hall and is adorned with a balustrade and is extraordinary beautiful.’ And although Tommaso Del Nero kept his loggetta within the alignment of the facade, with only its balustrade protruding, it resembled Bindo’s loggetta in that it was visually supported by the pilasters that framed the ground floor entrance underneath it. (fig. 3) Evidently, Tommaso did not literally copy Bindo’s device. He not only kept the loggetta within the facade, he also had a salone and loggetta built not on the ground floor but on the piano nobile. Furthermore, his loggetta was two- instead of three-tiered. It did, however, just as Bindo’s loggetta, feature round columns. Regarding the salone, Bocchi tells us that Tommaso had a fresco brought there, which he himself had painted earlier in another room of the palazzo. Obviously, he thought the main room of the building had to feature frescoes, as was the case in his uncle’s loggia.

It has been suggested that Bindo had his loggia and loggetta projected onto the river facade for the sake of the beautiful view over the Tiber. Admittedly, the view was beautiful, for it included Castel Sant’Angelo. One might, however, wonder if Bindo and his contemporaries were as charmed by picturesque views as we are today. In fact, it would not be surprising if Bindo, had he had the opportunity of building a whole new west wing and facade to his palazzo, would have opted for a solution similar to the one chosen later on by his Florentine nephew.          

As it appears, Tommaso, in designing the new palazzo Del Nero, also looked at houses of other family members residing in Rome for inspiration. More specifically, he turned his eye to a most conspicuous building that, between 1563 and 1570, his only and older cousin from paternal side, Francesco del Nero’s son Cecchino, had ordered to be built. With the vast capital he inherited from his father, deceased in 1563, Cecchino, following the fashion of the day, bought a vigna on the Pincio and had a casino constructed there in the form of a Greek cross with in its centre a belvedere. Although modest in its dimension, modern architectural historians have considered this building to be unique among the casinos that were then built on the Pincio. It was so remarkable, that eventually it was bought by the eminent art connoisseur and Maecenas, Cardinal Francesco Del Monte and after him by the equally cultured Cardinal Ludovico Ludovisi. This last owner expanded the casino and had it decorated by Caravaggio and Guido Reni. The subject of the fresco painted by Reni, made that henceforth the building was called Casino dell’Aurora. (fig. 6)

Fig. 6 Casino dell’Aurora.
Agostino Del Nero was always very close to his brother and therefore the two cousins will have known each other very well and Tommaso will have visited the casino more than once. In her recent, monumental book on Villa Ludovisi, Carla Benocci has posed the question as to who might have been the architect of Cecchino’s casino. She suggested a whole number of possible candidates, only then to discard them.*** What she doesn’t propose is that Cecchino could have designed his casino himself. What makes this suggestion plausible, is that upon entering the building, the first thing visitors were confronted with was the painted allegorical figure of Architecture showing its design. What this points to is that the owner took great pride in his casino’s design, indeed such great pride, that one suspects that it was he himself who had been responsible for it. One can easily imagine Cecchino extolling the building’s exquisiteness to his younger cousin and having Tommaso admire the casino’s most spectacular feature. This was the snail shell staircase that went straight up from the hall to the summit of the belvedere, and it must have given Tommaso the idea of having a similar one constructed in palazzo Del Nero. In his Bellezze, Bocchi writes: ‘But how great Tommaso’s mind was, is sufficiently demonstrated by a staircase in the form of a snail shell, that with admirable industriousness, from the ground floor of the cortile lead to the roof terrace, with such an even climb that one arrived at its summit, which was 40 braccia high, in short time and rather with delight than with fatigue’ (‘Ma quanto grande fosse l’ingegno in Tommaso, […], assai il dimostra una scala fatta a chiocciola, la quale con mirabile industria dal piano del cortile cammina insino sul terrazzo con salita tanto dolce, che al sommo dell’altezza, la quale è 40 braccia, con diletto più tosto, che con istento in breve spazio si arriva’). Indeed, Cecchino may well have been the one who induced Tommaso to become an amateur-architect.

The fact that in palazzo Del Nero, Tommaso copied Cecchino’s staircase, surely says something about the way he viewed this palace. Evidently, he considered it to be not just a town palazzo, but also a kind of belvedere. And indeed, the way in which the palazzo formed a whole with its prato – the then famous Pratello del Nero -, made it look like a villa suburbana and this was how it was actually represented in the 1590 print. (fig. 3) Maybe, but this is pure speculation, in designing the new palazzo Del Nero, Tommaso was thinking not only of Bindo’s palazzo and of Cecchino’s casino, but also of the renowned Prati di Castello, that were situated between Castel Sant’Angelo and the Tiber. These prati were just opposite palazzo Altoviti and on them, uncle Bindo had a luxurious Casino built for himself, lavishly decorated by Vasari.

* Valentina Catalucci, ‘La famiglia Del Nero di Firenze : proprietà, patrimonio e collezioni ; il palazzo Del Nero (oggi Torrigiani in piazza dei Mozzi) ; 1a parte’. In: Studi di storia dell’arte, 24.2013, 147-180.
**Leonardo Ginori Lisci, I palazzi di Firenze nella storia e nell’arte, Florence 1972.
*** Carla Benocci, Villa Ludovisi, Roma 2010.

Picture credits:
Figure 1: Leonardo Ginori Lisci , I palazzi di Firenze nella storia e nell’arte, Florence 1972.
Figure 3: Leonardo Ginori Lisci , I palazzi di Firenze nella storia e nell’arte, Florence 1972.
Figure 5: Domenico Gnoli, ‘Le demolizioni in Roma: il palazzo Altoviti’, Archivio storico dell’ arte 1(1888), p. 206.
Figure 6: Giovanni Battista, Falda, Pianta del giardino dell’Eccell.te Signor Principe Ludovisi a Porta Pinciana, 1670 ( 

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To read Part I of this blog, click here 

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