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WALKS IN FLORENCE: CHURCHES, STREETS AND PALACES

SUSAN AND JOANNA HORNER



 

Chapter XVII:  San Martino - The Badia

Leaving the Piazza della Signoria by the Via Calzaioli, and taking the third turning to the right, a few steps lead to the obscure little piazza, or piazzetta, which is divided in two by the diminutive Church of San Martino, once a chapel belonging to the larger church of the same name.  San Martino was built A.D. 986, by an archdeacon of Fiesole, who in 1034 presented it to the monks of the Badia - Abbey - of Florence:  it was nevertheless maintained as the parish church until 1479, when the abbot suppressed the cure, and gave half the building to the Guild of Tailors, who had their residence in this quarter.  The piazza nearest the Via Calzaioli is still called the "Piazza dei Cimatori," from cimare, to shear cloth.  St. Martin, who divided his cloak with the beggar, is a saint equally appropriate to the Guild of Tailors, and to the charitable institution to which all that remains of the old church now belongs.

In 1441, the good Bishop Antonino156 engaged twelve pious citizens of Florence to form themselves into a society for the secret aid of persons brought to penury by misfortune, who were ashamed to beg, and who were therefore called I Poveri Vergognosi - "the shamefaced poor."  The members of this society assumed the title of Procuratori dei Poveri Vergognosi; but they were more generally known as the Buonuomini di San Martino - "the good men of St. Martin."  The friars of the Badia granted them permission to make San Martino the depository for contributions towards this charity, and they suspended a box with a slip outside, to receive alms, which still remains there with the old inscription, stating the purpose for which the money was demanded.  In 1740, the Buonuomini purchased a room behind the church, in which to carry on their business.  Besides the relief of the better sort of poor, the objects of the society were to assist in the education of children, and to afford means for the heads of families to obtain clothing, and, when needed, a doctor, medicine, and even a sick-nurse; the society also gave dowries to indigent girls.  The power and influence of the Buonuomini di San Martino rapidly increased, until it roused the jealousy of the government, who, in 1498, made an attempt to withdraw the direction of the society from simple citizens, and to create in their stead a board of magistrates, who were to be elected annually.  The scheme, however, did not succeed, and the original framework of the institution, as established by San Antonino, was restored.

Within the little church are twelve lunettes, painted in the manner of Masaccio, probably by a scholar.157 The subjects of these paintings relate to the Seven Works of Mercy and to the Life of St. Martin.  In the central lunette, facing the window, is an old man with white hair, supposed to be the portrait of Piero Capponi, the heroic defender of the liberties of Florence.

In the piazzetta, opposite the Church of San Martino, is a lofty tower attached to the wall of the former monastery of the Badia.  In the early times of the Republic, this tower was inhabited by the Podestà, or foreign governor of Florence; the name by which it is generally known, of the Bocca di Ferro, was probably after one of these Podestàs, as there is still a Bolognese family of Ferro.  The Tower was still later called as La Castagna - "the chestnut tree" - for some unexplained reason; and finally, it was named the Torre di Dante, because it overlooks a house in the via San Martino, where a curious old door bears the inscription that here Dante Alighieri was born.158 In 1261, the Podestà left the Torre della Castagna to take up his abode in the palace now known as the Bargello.

Bargello, vault and pavement
 


 

The imperialist or Ghibelline party had suffered a total discomfiture in the death of Manfred, the son of the Emperor, Frederick II., in the battle of Benevento, when in 1295 commenced the Institutions of Arts or Guilds, which led the way to a free form of government in Florence, under the supremacy of the Guelphic party.  The first residence of the twelve Priors, or presidents of the principal guilds, who composed a council or magistracy for the city, was in the Torre della Castagna, which was afterwards ceded to the abbot of the Badia, when the priors removed to the houses of the Cerchi family.

Dante was born in 1265; and in the Church of San Martino he was married to Gemma, the daughter of Manetti Donati, whose houses adjoined those of the Alighieri.  In a neighbouring street lived Dante's first love, Beatrice or "Bice" Portinari.  Dante's parents were in easy circumstances, and belonged to the Guild of Wool.  The family mansion extended far back, with the principal front in the Via St. Margherita.  The door which remains in the Via San Martino could only have been that of the shop, and the arms on a shield above, are those of the Vecchietti, into whose hands the house subsequently fell.  It is described in a document of the year 1429, when on sale, as having several "storeys and saloons, and chambers and vaulted rooms above ground, courts, &c., with a bottega" - booth or shop - "adapted for the exercise of the wool trade, which house is entered by the Piazza di Sta. Margherita of Florence, whilst the entrance to the booth is in the Via San Martino, near the Piazza di San Martino of Florence, beside the Church of San Martino," &c.


The birthplace of Dante has an additional interest, because the same booth, "adapted for the exercise of the trade of wool," was two centuries later selected by the artist Mariotto Albertinelli for his tavern; when, disgusted by his friend Fra Bartolommeo abandoning his profession for a convent, Mariotto set up a wine shop, first near the ponte Vecchio in the neighbourhood of San Stefano, where the Vinatieri or Guild of Vintners had their residence, but afterwards in the former shop of the Alighieri, in the tailor's quarter, for which guild he painted his beautiful picture of the Visitation, then in San Martino, but now in the Uffizi Gallery.  Albertinelli's tavern soon became the resort of all the men of genius or talent in Florence, and here might daily be seen Michael Angelo, Benvenuto Cellini, and other artists of renown.  Late restorations have effaced the traces of the three arches on the walls, which belonged to the loggia where Albertinelli entertained his customers.

In the Via Condotta, between the Piazzetta di San Martino and the Via degli Antellesi at the Canto della Farina, opposite the palazzo Vecchio, is an old palace, now an inn, once occupied by the Cerchi family, the head of the Bianchi faction, and the fierce enemies of the Donati or Neri.  It was to the dwellings of the Cerchi the Priors removed from the Torre della Castagna, where they continued until the erection of the Palazzo Vecchio, in 1278.  This house was for upwards of one hundred years the palace of the Bandini family, where Bernardo Bandini received the Pazzi, when the plotted for the assassination of Lorenzo and Giuliano de' Medici; and in 1530 it was from the top of the Tower belonging to the family, that Giovanni Bandini betrayed the city to the Imperialists besieging the city, and gave information to the enemy, by signals, of the movements within.

Returning to the Piazza di San Martino, the via Margherita, in which are the houses of the Alighieri, leads to the Church of Sta. Margherita de Ricci, in the Via del Corso.  The porch of this church rests on columns of the composite order, supporting very elegant arches, the work of one Gherardo Salvini.  The present building is comparatively modern - 1508 - and was erected in order to protect a fresco of the Annunciation, which was previously in the adjoining piazzetta of Sta. Maria degli Alberinghi.  This fresco, of unknown authorship, was painted for Borso de' Ricci, and therefore called the Madonna de' Ricci.  A youth, named Antonio Rinaldeschi, was passing through the Piazza dei Alberinghi, after having suffered some losses at play, and he vented his rage by throwing dirt at the image of the Virgin.  His sudden death was considered a judgment for the crime, and the church was built in expiation, and to shelter the fresco from future insult.  The interior is small, and contains little worthy of notice, except a good terra-cotta bust of San Filippo Neri, a distinguished Florentine, born in 1515, who devoted himself to the service of the sick and pilgrims, and who, in 1551, founded the Confraternity of the Oratory, for the education of children.  Near the Church of Santa Margherita, close to the Via Calzaioli, is the old Tower of the Donati, whose houses were in this street, and in the Via degli Albizzi, as far as San Pietro Maggiore.

Between the Corso and the Via delle Oche, mentioned in a preceding chapter,159 there is a piazzetta where a small church was once dedicated to San Michele delle Trombe, the archangel, who, it is supposed, will rouse the dead from their tombs by his trumpet on the Last Day; and here was the residence of the Trumpeters of the Republic, who always preceded the Priors on solemn occasions.  In 1517, the Church was dedicated anew to Santa Elisabetta or the Visitation, from whence the piazza takes its present name.  A round tower, behind the group of low houses on the southern side of the piazzetta, is called the Pagliazza, from the straw beds of the prisoners, when this tower was the Florentine prison.

The Corso is a long narrow street terminating at the Via del Proconsolo, at the corner of which is a large palace, on the site of the former house of Folco Portinari, the wealthy citizen, who founded the Hospital of St. Maria Nuova, and who was the father of Dante's Beatrice.  In a small court of this palace, paved with mosaic, is sheen a spot still called la Nicchia di Dante - "Dante's Corner" - where the poet, when a boy, is supposed to have watched for Beatrice.  It was in the spring of 1274 that Folco Portinari invited all his friends to celebrate the festival of May Day.  Among them was Alighiero Alighieri, who brought with him his little son Dante, not quite nine years of age.  When playing with the other children, his fancy was attracted by Beatrice, the daughter of their host, and a year younger than himself.  He thus describes this meeting in his "Vita Nuova": - "She appeared before me in a dress of the most noble of colours, umile ed onesto sanguigno, made and trimmed suitably for her age.  From that time, love held the mastery in my soul, and began to assert such sway over me from the force of my imagination, that I was obliged to obey his behests.  He commanded me to try frequently to see the little angel, and I went often in search of her; and, whilst beholding her noble and admirable deportment, I could have exclaimed in the words of the poet Homer, 'she did not seem the child of a mortal but of a god!'"

This palace became, some years later, the residence of the Salviati family; a daughter of which, Maria Salviati, married Giovanni delle Bande Nere, and, whilst inhabiting the palace of her fathers, became the mother of the future Grand-Duke, Cosimo I.  It is related that Giovanni, to test the courage of the child, caused him to be thrown out of an upper window, and, as he caught him in his arms in the court below, he predicted the fortunes of his son.

The Corso, with its continuation, the Via degli Albizzi, was at one time celebrated for horse-races, in which the Florentine youth competed for a piece of cloth of gold, called the Pallio, and which gave its name to the diversion.  There is a lively description of the races, as they were conducted in 1740, by the Countess of Pomfret, in a letter to her friend, Lady Hertford: - "I went the other day to see a horse-race.  The amusement is performed in a very different manner here from what it is in England.  Our horses are ridden by men practised to the exercise; whilst, on the contrary, the Florentine horses have no riders at all.  They are let loose all at once from a certain stand, with little tin bells hanging at their sides (by strings across their backs), to prick them and make a noise.  They run in affright through a great part of the town, which is on that occasion so full of people that it is impossible for the poor beasts to run out of the course, even if they wished it.  The prize is a great quantity of gold brocade and velvet, given by the grand-dukes; and these Pallios, as they are called, were instituted for an annual amusement, in memory of some great victory, or civil success of the State.  The present prince (Leopold of Austria) always takes care to win his own prizes, so that the sight is all the benefit his people reap for what in form only he maintains of the magnificence of his predecessors."

Crossing the Via del Proconsolo, the Via degli Albizzi has its name from the old family who inhabited this quarter of the city.  Here stood the city gate of the San Pietro Maggiore, in the second circuit of walls.  At one corner is the Palazzo Nonfinito - "unfinished" - founded by Alessandro Strozzi in 1592, on the site of the Loggia de' Pazzi, after a design by Bernardo Buontalenti, who finished the side towards the Via degli Albizzi, but refused to proceed with his work from some offence he had taken against his employer.  Various architects undertook to complete the edifice, but it was nevertheless left in its present condition.  Mr. John Bell describes it as "a conspicuous specimen of the alliance of the Greek and Tuscan style.  Lofty and magnificent façade, nobly supported by the weight and gravity of the Tuscan base.  It has, however, little relation to the Tuscan, except in grandeur and proportion.  The forms are square, the front 150 feet in length, the same in depth.  A superb door-piece, arched within, guarded on each side by huge Doric semi-columns.  The balconies are supported by soffits; and the windows, which are magnificent, present a perfect specimen of superb Corinthian architecture.  They are finely squared, and grandly ornamented by groups of fabled monsters, which project with a singular boldness of effect from above, being linked or bound together with husks and leaves in a style of inconceivable richness.  Cigoli was the architect of one front, Buontalenti of the other."  The enlightened minister of the Grand-Duke Ferdinand III., Fossombroni, inhabited this palace, which afterwards became the police-office.

At the opposite corner of the Via del Proconsolo and Via degli Albizzi is the still more splendid Palazzo Quaratesi, which formerly belonged to the Pazzi family.  Andrea Pazzi employed Brunelleschi to make the design; but the building begun on his plan was demolished by Andrea's son, Jacopo, one of the famous Pazzi Conspiracy.  Jacopo, however, recommenced the building in accordance with the original design.  According to Mr. John Bell, it is "a fine specimen of the Composite - Tuscan - combining with the grandest character of this order, a well-assimilated portion of the Grecian character; 100 feet in length, and doorway high and finely arched, composed of the correct, although not the largest form of rustic work.  The first floor is thirty-six feet from the ground; the second, sixteen feet above this; and the third, the same dimensions.  Windows, nine feet in front, very magnificent; each divided in the centre by a slender Corinthian column, supporting a wide-spread arch, surmounted by beautifully wrought and wreathed festoons of vine-leaves.  The cortile of good architecture, having composed columns, with rich and curious capitals."  The escutcheon in the corner is by Donatello; below it a beautiful fanale, or ornament for the exhibition of fireworks, is by Nicolò Caparra; this privilege was only accorded to families of the highest distinction in Florence.

The Cantonata dei Pazzi - including the space between the Palaces Quaratesi and Nonfinito - is still annually the scene of a ceremony derived from the days of the Crusades.  A popular tradition relates that in 1147 a Florentine, named Raniero, led 2,500 Tuscans to the Second Crusade.  Raniero planted the first Christian standard on the walls of Jerusalem, and was permitted as a reward to carry back to Florence a light kindled at the sacred fire on the Saviour's tomb.  The hero started on horseback to return home, but finding that the wind, as he rode, would soon extinguish the light, he changed his position, and sitting with his face to his horse's tail, conveyed the sacred relic safely to Florence.  As he passed along, all who met him called out he was pazzo, or "mad," and thence arose the family name of the Pazzi.160 The light was placed in San Biagio; and ever since, on Saturday in Passion week, a coal which is kindled there, is borne on the Caroccio to the Cantonata dei Pazzi before it is taken to the Cathedral; and, in both places, an artificial dove, symbolical of the holy Spirit, by some mechanical contrivance is made to light a lamp before the sacred image at this corner, and on the high altar of the Cathedral.  The story appears to have some reference to a ceremony performed by the patriarch of Jerusalem, who on that same day of the Christian year lights a candle at the sacred fire; and he who has the good fortune to light his own at that of the patriarch's is supposed to be secure from harm throughout the remainder of the year.  The analogy was still closer, when, formerly, on that same Saturday, a Pazzi carried the torch kindled at San Biagio, and presented it to his fellow-citizens to light theirs.

The Pazzi Palace in course of time passed into other hands; and one of its owners, a lady of the family of Cibo di Massa, called "the Marchesana," first introduced carriages into Florence.  Still later it was inhabited by the Quaratesi, an old and distinguished family still living in Florence.  It is now, by will of its last owner - a German - administered for a charity in the town of Como.

In the Via degli Albizzi, on the opposite side of the way, is the Palazzo Montalvo.  The Montalvi are of Spanish descent; the founder of the Florentine branch was appointed to an office in the government by the Grand-Duke Cosimo I., and his palace was built after a design by Cosimo's architect, Ammanati.  In the court is a beautiful bronze Mercury by Giovanni Bologna, a copy, with slight variations, of an antique marble in the Uffizi.  A splendid hall of fine proportions once held the library; it has a handsome chimney-piece, with the bust of the founder of the family; and around the room are portraits of his sons, one of whom served under the Emperor Charles V.  There is likewise a portrait of Lisbetta Martelli, the wife of Ernando Montalvo, whose family had been the patrons of Donatello, and who brought, as her dowry, a model in clay by that artist of a patera, which is figured in Cicognara's work, and the marble of which is now in the South Kensington Museum; Lisbetta Martelli also brought a model in terra-cotta of Donatello's famous Magdalene of the Baptistery.  As the works of art in this palace have been offered for sale, there is little to detain the visitor.  Next the Montalvo Palace once stood the ancient palace of the Pazzi, which has been demolished for the national Bank, one of the finest modern buildings of Florence.
Nearly opposite is another splendid palace, which belonged to the Conti Galli, a Prato  family.  A beautiful staircase leads to a suite of rooms, some of which are painted in fresco by Giovanni di San Giovanni; the beams and rafters of the ceilings are decorated with arabesques and gilt in the old Florentine manner.  This palace has been lately occupied for the Prefecture; and several of the rooms have been assigned to a public library, open to readers three days in the week.

A tall narrow house farther down the street belongs to the Londi family; an inscription on the wall states that here died Galluzzi, the historian of the Medici family, patronised by Pietro Leopoldo; and afterwards, when the French possessed Tuscany, by the Buonapartes.  On the return of Ferdinand III. from exile, he persecuted Galluzzi, who found shelter with the Londi.

Next to the Casa Londi is one of the most interesting old palaces of Florence, the Palazzo Alessandri.  Some centuries ago, two brothers of the distinguished Albizzi family quarrelled, and not only chose to separate and live in different houses, but one of them dropped his family for his baptismal name, and thus commenced the house of the Alessandri.  This occurred in 1372, when the signory gave permission to this branch of the family to adopt a different coat of arms, - a lamb argent with two heads on an azure field, to signify their connection with the Guild of Wool, to which was added a golden crown with green palm-leaves, when, in 1439, they were created Counts of the Empire.  The Alessandri boast of twenty-three Priors and nine Gonfaloniers; but, amidst their feudal honours, they did not despise the commerce from which they had derived all their wealth and power.  The cloth, which they continued to manufacture, was spread to dry in the sun near the roof of their palace; and the iron cramps which once supported the drying apparatus, may still be seen on either side of the windows in the upper storey.  The old windows with small square panes, under pointed arches, belong to the original building; but a portion of the palace was burnt down by the mob during the Ciompi riots in the thirteenth century, when the palace still bore the name Albizzi.


A suite of rooms in the ancient part of the building is hung with cloth of gold and velvet from the Palios won at horse races in the Corso.  The Albizzi were frequent winners, especially when they possessed a famous black horse, known as the "Gran Diavolo," whose portrait, with that of his groom, is still preserved in one of the country seats of the family.  In 1686, when their rivals the Pazzi carried off all the prizes, the Alessandri were nearly ruined; and the son of the desperate gambler, whose passion for racing had consumed the fortunes of his family, never could even look at a horse.  As this young man became the Senator Count Cosimo Alessandri, it may be supposed that he recovered what his father had wasted.
The rooms lined with cloth of gold are those with the old windows, whose small panes and pointed arches are seen from the outside.  The windows, reached from within by steps, are sunk in deep recesses.  The curtains and portières are all of cloth of gold, almost as fresh as if manufactured yesterday.  The ceilings are vaulted, and painted in fresco, and little pictured mirrors of old Venetian glass, as well as larger looking-glasses, adorn the walls.  In one spacious chamber is the state-bed, a splendid work of Florentine upholstery of the seventeenth century, which excited the envy of Flemish workmen of the nineteenth.  Besides the rich carving, the lofty wooden canopy is lined with cloth of gold, and the curtains, counterpane, and walls of the room are hung with a still more gorgeous material, of which gold forms the ground, whilst the pattern is the Florentine lily in crimson velvet, picked out with gold.  A specimen of these hangings was sent to manufacturers in France, but they failed in the attempt to imitate it.
In the first room of the more modern part of this palace is a round Botticelli called a replica of the picture of the Madonna by this master in the Tuscan room of the Uffizi.  This picture is now supposed to have been painted before that in the Gallery; there are two angels instead of three, the most lovely, that bending over the two youths, being omitted, and the handling is free and original.  There are four interesting little pictures by Pesellino; the subjects:  Simon Magus and St. Peter; the Vision of St. Paul; St. Benedict and St. Zanobius restoring the dead child to life - the treatment of this last is simple but even more beautiful than the same subject by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio in the Uffizi.  Another very interesting picture is by Fra Filippo Lippi:  the subject is the Madonna between St. Cosimo and St. Damian.  The figures are painted on a gold ground; at the feet of the Virgin is the donator, a man in middle life, and one of the Alessandri family; he is accompanied by two of his sons, who kneel beside him.  The picture was originally a triptych, but the two doors on which the saints are painted have been partly sawn away.  It has always been in the family, and was executed for their chapel.  A Madonna is by Andrea del Sarto; an interesting repetition of the Madonna del Pozzo of the Tribune in the Uffizi Gallery, which is there attributed to Raffaelle, but is more probably by Franciabigio.161 This picture is by some believed the original; there is greater force of expression, whilst retaining an equal grace and sweetness.  A repetition of the Magdalene reading, by Correggio (?).  A miniature on copper of St. Francis in prayer, attributed to Cigoli.  A larger picture of the same subject, by Jacopo da Empoli, contains two quails in the foreground:  the artist had a passion for the chase, and when his patron, Count Alessandri, was amusing himself with field sport whilst Jacopo was engaged on this work, he refused to proceed until the Count sent him some quails he had killed, which the artist introduced into the picture.  A Madonna and Child and St. John - a graceful picture - and three heads of saints, are all by the same painter.  A portrait of Bianca Capello, and a Sorcerer's head, by Salvator Rosa, complete the pictures in this room.  In another room there is a small head of the Saviour, set in a gorgeous frame of pietra-dura work and gold; an Apollo, life-size, by Benvenuto, the best Italian artist of the beginning of this century, which recalls the French school of David; several portraits of remarkable men towards the end of the last century and the beginning of this, such as Monti, Rossini, &c.; a full-length portrait of pope Pius VII., and a copy of the Deposition from the Cross in the Pitti, by Andrea del Sarto.  In a narrow passage there are several modern Florentine pictures, among which is a fine head of a Magdalene, by Bozzoli, an artist of merit who died a few years ago; an interesting portrait of the sculptor Bartolini when young; and a portrait of Alfieri, with another portrait, called Lord Byron.
The palace contains, in sculpture, two interesting busts of boys, by Donatello and by Mino da Fiesole; a fine Madonna and Child in relief by Donatello; a group by Desiderio da Settignano, besides a life-like bust, a small crucifix by one of the Della Robbia school, and stuccos by Canova.  Two bronzes are attributed to Giovanni Bologna, but one of these appears to belong to a later period of Florentine bronze-casting.  The entrance-hall and passages are adorned with a bold work of sculpture by Michael Angelo, and a large stone eagle grasping the woolsack, the emblem of the Arte della Lana.

Farther down the Via degli Albizzi, a lofty arch spans one side of a piazzetta, now used as a market.  This arch is all that remains of the Church of San Pietro Maggiore.  Casa Casuccini, in the Via degli Albizzi, is on the site of the towers attached to the Palace of Corso Donati, where he defended himself against the Florentine mob in the fourteenth century; and in this same street was enacted the miracle of San Zanobius, when by his prayers he restored a child to life.

Returning towards the Via del Proconsolo, is a palace, curiously decorated by terminal busts of remarkable persons, formerly the Palazzo Valori, now Altoviti.  At a still earlier period it belonged to the Albizzi, where lived Rinaldo degli Albizzi, one of the most distinguished Florentines of the fifteenth century, who opposed the growing power of Cosimo de' Medici, and died in exile at Ancona in 1452.  His palace became the dowry of his daughter, who was married to a Valori.  The present building was raised by Baccio Valori, a senator and councillor under the Grand-Duke Ferdinand I.  He collected a large library, and his son Filippo has left a description of the sculptured heads outside the building, from which it has obtained the name among the common people of Palazzo dei Visacci," the "Ugly Faces."  The bust of Baccio Valori is placed within the entrance.

Passing along the Via del Proconsolo, so called from containing the residence of the Advocate for the guild of Judges and Lawyers at the southern extremity of the street, the visitor arrives at the Badia, or Abbey, of Florence; the monastery formerly attached to it is now suppressed.  The Badia was founded in the tenth century by Willa, the daughter of Boniface, Marquis of Spoleto, and the wife of the Marquis of Tuscany.  The foundation has been attributed to her son Hugh, marquis of Brandenburg, who was Governor of Tuscany for the Emperor Otho III.  According to the old legend, Hugh was one day hunting, when he lost his way in the forest and was surprised by a vision of hideous demons tormenting human souls, who threatened him with a similar punishment if he did not amend his life.  On his return to Florence, he accordingly sold his patrimony in Germany, and devoted the proceeds of the sale to the foundation of seven religious houses, in expiation of the seven deadly sins.  The first of these was the Abbey of Florence.  Hugh, or Ugo's, death and his pious deeds are annually commemorated on St. Thomas's Day, the 21st December, when a custom prevailed, to a late period, for a noble Florentine youth to pronounce a discourse in his praise during the celebration of Mass.  Dante alludes to this in the sixteenth canto of his "Paradiso," line 127, in which he calls Ugo, the Great Baron: -

Ciascun che della bella insegna porta
Del gran Barone, il cui nome e 'l cui pregio
La festa di Tomaso riconforta.162
Notwithstanding the legend and the old custom, Countess Willa, the mother of Ugo, is believed by the learned antiquary Count Luigi Passerini to have been really the foundress of the Badia.  She assigned several towns, houses, and lands to the Abbey, which she bestowed on the Black Benedictines.  The ceremony of their installation is curiously described.  Willa first offered a knife to the abbot, a token that he was empowered to curtail and dispose of the property as he should think fit; secondly, she presented him with the pastoral staff of authority; thirdly, with a branch of a tree, to signify he was lord of the soil; fourthly, with a glove, the usual symbol of investiture; and, lastly, she allowed herself to be expelled from the place, to express her entire resignation of all rights and power to the abbot.  Her son Ugo, Governor of Tuscany, still further enriched the abbey by grants of the Castello di Vico, with two hundred houses, and the town of Bibbiena in the Casentino.  The Abbey stood amidst gardens, and the Via della Vigna Vecchia, which skirts the southern side of the Bargello, marks the vineyard of the monastery.  The first occupants were monks from the Abbey of Clugny, in France; but it was afterwards bestowed on the Benedictines of Monte Cassino.

The foundation-stone of the Abbey was laid A.D. 993; but in 1250, when the Palazzo del Podestà, now the Bargello, was built on land belonging to the Badia, part of this old edifice was demolished to make room for the new palace; the necessary repairs of the abbey were confided to Arnolfo di Cambio.  The principal families of Florence had their burial-place within the cloisters of the Badia, and were in close and friendly alliance with the friars.  In 1307, the priors of the Republic passed a decree, obliging ecclesiastics to take their share in the payment of the taxes, a measure which the Abbot of the Badia immediately prepared to resist.  He caused the bells to be rung to summon the Florentine nobles to his aid, but in spite of these auxiliaries he had to succumb, and, as a punishment for this act of rebellion, the victorious priors caused the bell-tower of the Abbey to be half pulled down, and the bells, which had been rung to call the nobles to the rescue, to be destroyed.  The present campanile, on the same model with the former, was built in 1320, by order of the pope's legate, Cardinal Giovanni degli Orsini.  The Abbey has suffered at various times from fire, and only reached its present state in 1625, when it was completed by Matteo Segaloni, under the direction of Father Serafino Casaletti.

The richly carved, beautiful framework of the doorway was constructed in 1495, by Benedetto da Rovezzano, at the expense of Battista Pandolfini, one of the valiant defenders of Florentine liberty in 1529.  A most lovely relief by Luca della Robbia has been removed from the interior to this doorway.

A short passage leads from the principal entrance to the church door, above which until lately was a medallion of the Madonna, by Mino da Fiesole, but it was placed too high to judge of its merits, and it has been removed to the Bargello.  The interior of the church is decorated according to the taste of the seventeenth century, when it was rebuilt in the form of a Greek cross; the ceiling is divided into cassetones, and gilt.  The tribune and a chapel in the transept, to the left of the entrance,163 were originally painted by Giotto, and were among his earliest successful productions; the high altar was also adorned by one of his pictures; and a small chapel in the transept, to the right of the entrance, was once surrounded by his frescos, which have been effaced to make room for paintings of little merit.  Buffalmacco was employed to paint the frescos on the pilasters, but all these early works have disappeared.  To the right of the doorway is a marble sarcophagus, in memory of Gianozzo Pandolfini, the grandfather of Battista; it rests on dolphins, and is enclosed in a low arch, with exquisitely carved fruit, pomegranates, and corn - probably by Rovezzano.  Near this is another marble monument, containing reliefs by Benedetto da Majano, 1442-1497.  Benedetto's earliest works were wooden mosaic - intarsiatura; he was for some time employed by Matthais Corvinus, King of Hungary; and on his return from this distant land, he applied himself to marble, in which he soon became noted for the grace and elegance of his productions.  He has divided this monument into three compartments.  In the  centre is the Madonna and Child; on the right, St. Lawrence looking upwards, in full assurance of the reward of martyrdom; as usual he wears his deacon's dress; he bears the palm-branch in one hand, a clasped book in the other, whilst the gridiron, the instrument of his death, is figured within the niche behind him:  St. Leonard, likewise in his deacon's dress, is on the left; as the liberator of captives this saint holds fetters in his hand.

Within the adjoining transept is a noble monument by Mino da Fiesole, to the memory of the Gonfalonier, Bernardo Giugni, who died in 1466.  The Giugni family had their houses in the immediate neighbourhood of the Badia, in the Via Condotta, where is now the hostelry or inn of the Luna, near the houses of the Cerchi.  The Giugni belonged to the Guelphic party, and fifty of the family sat among the Priors from 1291 to 1529, whilst eighteen have been Gonfaloniers of the Republic.  Bernardo was celebrated for his prudence, and he was frequently employed to allay popular tumults; he was likewise sent on various missions abroad:  his funeral was conducted at the public expense.  He is represented on this monument extended on his bier; the head and hands are very fine, and true to nature; above him is a figure of Justice holding the scales, surmounted by a medallion bearing the head of the Gonfalonier in profile.  The whole is enclosed in a grand architectural frame of massive proportions.

Crossing the church, in the opposite transept is a monument to the memory of the supposed founder, Count Ugo of Brandenburg, a work of the fourteenth century, attributed to Mino da Fiesole, but rather resembling the style of Rossellini.  The head of Count Ugo, who is represented on his bier, is well executed; there is perfect repose in the figure; above, is a representation of Charity, holding a distaff, with two children; in the lunette, still higher up, is a Madonna and Child; two boy-angels at either corner support a shield with the arms of the family.  The picture of the Ascension of the Virgin, over this monument, is one of the best works of Giorgio Vasari; the angels who bear the Virgin upwards are very lovely.

A chapel to the right of Count Ugo's monument, contains the two works of greatest artistic merit in this church, excepting the monument to Bernardo Giugni.  The first is a very fine example of Luca della Robbia,164 representing a Virgin and Child, with two adoring angels in a lunette.  The tender loveliness of the Virgin, the dignity yet childlike timidity of the Infant Christ, and the reverential attitude of the angels, beautifully express the thought of the artist.  At the farther end of the chapel is a picture by Filippino Lippi, 1412 -1469, representing the Virgin appearing to St. Bernard.  She is born along by lovely boy-angels.  In the background is a monastery, with monks in natural attitudes, rocks, trees, &c.  The picture was painted by order of Françesco del Pugliese for the Church of the Campora, outside the Porta Romana of Florence.  The portrait of the donator appears below; the Virgin and her attendant angels are portraits of his wife and children. During the siege of Florence, 1529, the picture was removed to the Badia for safety.  The Virgin modestly bends forward, one hand resting lightly on the volume placed before St. Bernard, the other is on her bosom.  A sweet angelic head is looking from behind her, with childish curiosity, eager to discover what is going on; a second little face is full of devotional feeling, the hands are clasped; two, who are older, look up earnestly, with expressive countenances.  St. Bernard is absorbed in wonder at the vision.  The drawing is careful, and the colour sober and agreeable.
Passing within the precincts of the former monastery, by a small door to the right within the choir, the visitor finds himself in a beautiful little cloister, composed of a double row of Ionic columns, one above the other.  In the upper gallery is a monument to Françesco Valori, who belonged to an old patrician family of Florence.  Françesco was born in 1439, and was frequently employed as ambassador to foreign courts, besides being chosen four times Gonfalonier of the Republic.  In 1492, when Piero de' Medici, the son of the first Cosimo, aspired to supreme power, he was resisted by Françesco Valori, who on this occasion was carried through the city on the shoulders of the citizens.  When Girolamo Savonarola preached in favour of popular government as the sole foundation of true liberty and of safety for the Church, Valori supported him, and even went so far as to banish some Franciscans, who preached against the doctrines of the "Frate."  When Bernardo del Nero165 was Gonfalonier, a conspiracy for the restoration of Piero de' Medici was discovered in which Bernardo was implicated.  The stern justice of Valori overruled all appeals to mercy, and Bernardo and his accomplices, belonging to the first families in Florence, were all executed.  But the tide of popular favour at length turned; and when in 1498 Savonarola was dragged from the Convent of San Marco, Valori was also summoned to appear before the tribunal.  He was on his way to the palace, when two of the relations of those he had formerly condemned to death attacked and murdered him.  A relief of his head and a short inscription here are the sole records of this Florentine patriot, who is thus described by a contemporary:  "He was of a majestic presence, his face long and ruddy, a capacious mind, serious deportment with few words; proud, severe, abstemious in his habits, simple in his attire, most exact in his management of the public money, though most jealous of the public honour; ardent in the service of his friends, but of haughty bearing to them."166

Around this cloister are frescos, chiefly by Nicolò di Foligno or l' Alunno, representing incidents in the life of St. Benedict.  The finest of these paintings, St. Benedict rolling among thorns, is the work of Bronzino.  An attempt to remove this fresco has left the painting much damaged.  In the cloister below is a curious old well; and an ancient decoration, carved in stone on the wall, marks the entrance to the vaults of those patrician families who once had the right of burial within the Abbey.

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Chronology

Albertinelli, Mariotto 1474-1515
Albizzi, Rinaldo de', died 1452
Alessandri family founded 1372
Badia founded 993
Badia Campanile built 1320
Buonuomini Society founded by Bishop Antonino 1441
Buonuomini Society Room at San Martino purchased for 1740
Capponi, Pier, died 1496
Charles VIII. of France 1470-1498
Donati, Corso, died 1308
Elisabetta, Piazza di Sta. 1517
Giovanni delle Bande Nere died 1526
Giugni, Bernardo, died 1466
Guilds or Arts instituted 1265
Martino, San, built 986
Martino, San, presented to the Monastery of the Badia 1034
Otho III., Emperor, died 1508
Palazzo Nonfinito 1592
Valori, Baccio 1354-1427
Valori, Françesco 1439-1448
 

Notes

156 See "Or San Michele," chap. xii.
157 See "Cicerone" of Burkhardt, p. 60.
158 See illustration at the beginning of this chapter.
159 See "Piazza del Duomo e del Battisterio," chap. vi.
160 The true history of the Pazzi differs from the tradition.  One Pazzo or Paccio (abbreviations of Jacopo) Ganieri led the Tuscan contingent in the Second Crusade, and gained possession of Damietta, for which feat he and his descendants were allowed a mural crown in their coat of arms.
161 See "Cavalcaselle," vol. iii. p. 500.
162

 Each one that bears the beautiful escutcheon
 Of the great Baron, whose renown and name
 The festival of Thomas keepeth fresh.
   Longfellow's Translation.
163 Florentine churches are seldom placed east and west.
164 This has been removed and placed over the entrance to the Badia.  See anti, p. 309.
165 The portrait of Bernardo del Nero, by Leonardo da Vinci, is in the Torrigiani Gallery.
166 See "Storia della Republica di Firenze di Gino Capponi," vol. ii. p. 233.
 
 

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Chapter XVIII:  San Firenze - Palazzo Gondi - Loggia del Grano - Piazza Castellani - Ponte alle Grazie - Vicinity of Santa Croce
 

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