WALKS IN FLORENCE: CHURCHES, STREETS AND PALACES
SUSAN AND JOANNA HORNER
Chapter XXXVI: Fondaccio Santo Spirito – Via Maggio – Church of San Felice
Parallel to the quay already traversed, and leading back to the Piazza Frescobaldi, is the Fondaccio di Santo Spirito; and on a tablet to the left there is an inscription recording the birthplace of Françesco Ferruccio. The family of Ferruccio was from Piombino, and derived their name from ferro, "iron," having probably been workers in that metal. They were Florentine citizens in 1253, when one of the Ferrucci had a seat in the government. Françesco was born in 1489, and was destined for a merchant, but his inclinations were more for war and the chase, in which last occupation he spent much of his time in the Casentino, where he possessed land. He was sent on several missions to Malatesta Baglioni, then a celebrated leader of Free Companies; and he once had occasion to witness a signal defeat of this captain, in a vain endeavour to rescue Arezzo, which was attacked by the enemy: Ferruccio came to the rescue, when Baglioni was obliged to acknowledge the superior military skill of this Florentine merchant, and hated him accordingly. In 1529 Malatesta was invited to undertake the defence of Florence against the imperialists, and Ferruccio volunteered to second his efforts by harassing the enemy and creating diversions outside the city; but his ability and success only increased the envy and spite of Baglioni, who finally betrayed Florence to the besiegers, and conspired to cause the overthrow and murder of Ferruccio at the Battle of Gavinana, among the mountains above Pistoia. In Ferruccio the Florentines lost the last defender of their Republic, and his name is still venerated among those of the greatest of their heroes.
Opposite this palace, at the corner of the Via de Serragli, is the Palazzo Rinuccini, now let out in apartments, and its rich gallery and library sold and dispersed. It was built by the architect Luigi Cardi Cigoli about the end of the sixteenth century, and the windows on the ground floor are much admired. The earliest record of the Rinuccini is when they built the Sacristy of St. Croce for their chapel, in 1294. They were frequently employed on embassies abroad; and in 1645 one of the family was sent as Papal Legate to Ireland, to endeavour to ameliorate the condition of the Catholics, who were barbarously persecuted by Cromwell. The Marchese Carlo Rinuccini was sent ambassador to Queen Anne to congratulate her on her accession to the English throne, and afterwards for the same purpose to George I.
Before the middle of the thirteenth century there were no houses of any importance on this side of the Arno, and when Buonaccorso Velluti, one of the ancestors of the present Duke di San Clemente, built himself a palace in this neighbourhood, his friends ridiculed his choice of a situation so remote from Florence. The first palace to the left after entering the Via Maggio is the official residence of the American Consul; it was formerly the Palazzo Firidolfi, a branch of the Ricasoli family; they were among the most valiant defenders of Florence against the Emperor Henry VII. – 1312 – and were in consequence placed under the ban of the Empire. The last male descendant died in 1818, leaving an only daughter, Lucrezia, who married a Ricasoli, and, as before stated, thus reunited the families after an interval of eight centuries. The two palaces which follow are Turco and Amerigo, and opposite them, No. 26, is the palace built for herself by Bianca Cappello, and decorated with paintings in the Florentine manner. Her husband, one night when returning home, was murdered between this palace and the bridge. Bianca was the daughter of an old patrician family of Venice, and she was persuaded to form a secret marriage with a young Florentine named Piero Bonaventura. Fearing discovery by her parents, they escaped to Florence, where they lived in complete retirement in an apartment in the Piazza di San Marco. It happened, however, that Prince Francis, the eldest son and heir of the Grand-Duke Cosimo I., saw Bianca at a window, and was struck with her extraordinary beauty. The assassination of Bonaventura, which took place many years afterwards, was by some attributed to Francis, who had succeeded his father as grand-duke; and on the death of the Grand-Duchess Joanna of Austria, in 1579, he married Bianca, who was immediately adopted as a daughter by the Venetian Republic. She summoned her brother, Vittorio Cappello, to join her in Florence, and he soon became the sole adviser and favourite of Francis, which so much excited the jealousy and hatred of the Medici family, that every means was employed to oblige Francis to dismiss Vittorio from his court. Bianca's voluminous correspondence with her brother, in her clear, bold handwriting, is still preserved in the Archives of the Uffizi. The dismissal of Vittorio did not, however, satisfy the enemies of the grand-duchess, who were resolved on her death; and one evening after she and the grand-duke had partaken of a supper at their favourite villa of Poggio-a-Cajano, both were seized with violent pains, and they died within a few hours of one another. Cardinal Ferdinand de' Medici, the brother of Francis, who succeeded to the throne, is accused of being the author of this crime, which accusation appeared the more probable by the contumely with which he caused the body of the unhappy grand-duchess to be treated, and her son only escaped persecution by leading a life of retirement in Florence.
Beyond the opposite Palazzo Amerigo is the Palazzo Ridolfi. The Ridolfi came to Florence from Ravenna, in the fourteenth century. Twenty-one of the family filled the office of Gonfalonier, and fifty-two that of Priors of the Republic. Nicolò de' Ridolfi was beheaded, in 1417, for having attempted to restore the Medici to Florence; but his son married a daughter of Lorenzo the Magnificent, and exercised great influence in the Government until his death, in 1525. His son again married a daughter of the celebrated Filippo Strozzi, and the favour he showed towards the Florentine exiles was the cause of his banishment by the Grand-Duke Cosimo I., when he found protection with Catherine de' medici, Queen of France. From him are descended the present Ridolfi family. The most distinguished of the Ridolfi belonged, however, to another branch. Lorenzo de' Ridolfi governed the Florentine Republic towards the end of the fourteenth, and the beginning of the fifteenth centuries, assisted by Messer Maso degli Albizzi, and Messer Filippo Corsini, before Cosimo de' Medici attained to power; and it was these three men who raised Florence to the high position she afterwards held. In the year 1425, eight years after his cousin Nicolò de' Ridolfi had been beheaded for his friendship to the Medici, Lorenzo di Antonio Ridolfi was sent to Venice to solicit the Venetians to join in a league against filippo Visconti, Lord of Milan. The cautious Venetians hesitated, when Lorenzo burst forth in these words: - "Venetians, last year the Genoese, when we abandoned them, created Filippo a prince; if you deny us your aid in our present difficulties, we will make him a king; and should we conquer, and you are left standing alone, none coming to your aid, however you may desire it, you will be the cause of his becoming emperor." Ridolfi then turned his back on the Senators and left the room, when they immediately consented to join the League.
The late Marchese Cosimo Ridolfi was one of the most
honest and patriotic statesmen of Florence during the
disturbed period antecedent to the union of Italy under Victor
Emmanuel, which was the more to be admired in him, as he was
tutor to the grand-ducal children. At the corner of the
Via Maggio and the via Marsili, is a house painted by Pocetti
in chiaroscuro. The house was at that time possessed by
the architect, Bernardo Buontalenti, and it was here that he
received a flying visit from the poet Torquato Tasso.
Tasso's poetry had been severely criticised by the Accademia
della Crusca, and Ariosto preferred before him; he had
felt the mortification acutely, when news reached him in
Ferrara that his pastoral of "Aminta" had been produced on the
Florentine stage, with scenery by Buontalenti, which had
secured for it the greatest success. Tasso instantly
started for Florence, and rode up to this door in the Via
Maggio. When Buontalenti appeared, Tasso asked, "Are you
that Bernardo Buontalenti of whose wonderful inventions so
much is spoken, and who contrived the machinery for a drama
lately recited, the composition of Tasso?" "I am
Bernardo Buontalenti," was the reply, "but not such as you
have the kindness and courtesy to describe me." Upon
this the poet embraced him, kissed his forehead, and with the
words, "You are Buontalenti, I Torquato Tasso; adieu, my
friend;" remounted his horse, and left Florence by the way he
came. Buontalenti immediately informed the Grand-Duke
Cosimo of this visit, but though messages were sent to recall
Tasso, it was too late, and he never returned to Florence.
Opposite this Palace is the Via Michelozzi, at the corner of which is the singular old Palace of the Michelozzi family, the upper storey overhanging the lower, and supported by brackets. One of the Michelozzi was Prior in 1386, and another was employed with Averardo de' Medici, the grandfather of Cosimo, to punish a rebellious town, in 1433. Giovan Battista di Tommaso Michelozzi, in the sixteenth century, placed the rich canopy over the high altar of the neighbouring Church of Santo Spirito. The celebrated architect belonged to another branch of this family.
[Piazzi Pitti, 21, where Dostoevsky wrote part of The Idiot, 1868]
At the further end of the Via Maggio is the Casa Guidi, an old tower transformed into a modern mansion, and over the door is a beautiful inscription to the memory of the English poetess Elizabeth Barrett Browning, who lived and died here, 1847-1861. At the opposite corner, in the Piazza di San Felice, is the church of that name, where many noble families have their burial-place; it belongs to a convent of Dominican nuns, called the Nuns of San Pietro Martire, who are permitted to afford protection to unhappy wives flying from their husbands. The Coro, or gallery, set apart for the nuns, above the entrance to the church, is supported by Doric columns. To the right of the door is a much injured fresco, grandly composed and with deep feeling, probably of the period preceding the schools of the Lippi and Masaccio? The Saviour is rising from his tomb; the Virgin, with one arm round his neck, and supporting his wounded arm with her other hand, kisses his face; St. John and Mary Magdalene kneel on either side.
On the opposite side of the church is a panel picture of three Saints, attributed to Piero di Cosimo, but rather resembling the style of the Pollaioli. St. Roch, in the centre, points to the plague-spot on his leg; on one side, is St. Anthony and his pig; on the other, St. Catherine; the legends of the Saints are given in the predella below: St. Anthony is chasing away his pig, the emblem of gluttony and a life of indulgence; St. Catherine is suffering martyrdom between two wheels; the legend of St. Roch in the centre is not sufficiently seen to ascertain its meaning. The colour and expression is very fine throughout.
A little further down the nave on the same side is a feeble picture, by Salvator Rosa, of St. Peter walking on the Sea. St. Matthew at the Receipt of Custom is by Cosimo Rosselli, and is a fare specimen of the master. The Madonna appearing to San Pietro Martire, by Ridolfo Ghirlandaio, aided by his favourite pupil, Michele, is also a good picture. The chapel which follows is dedicated to the Holy Wafer. Above it is a Madonna, in a lunette, which was brought here from the western entrance, where it is supposed to have worked miracles during a plague. A marble arch, with delicately carved foliage, encloses the whole. The Ancona, containing the wafer, has a Virgin and four saints, with adoring angels rising over the casket. Above is the Saviour rising from the tomb. To the right of the virgin is an old and a young saint; to the left St. John the Baptist and another saint: angels fill up the interstices of the arch. A picture by Giovanni di San Giovanni represents an incident in the life of San Felice, when a bishop of Nola, who was dying of hunger and thirst, was relieved by him. The last picture on this side is so much injured, as to be almost incomprehensible. On the opposite side are, - a Virgin and Child, with saints; St. Anthony healing the Sick, by Ottavio Vanni; and St. Dominick, with other saints, by Vignoli, an artist of no great name. A fine Giottesque Crucifix is attached to the gallery for the nuns.
From the Piazza San Felice a street leads directly to the Piazza Santo Spirito, at the corner of which is another fine example of Florentine architecture of the sixteenth century, possibly after a design by Il Cronaca; a beautiful Fanale, similar to those on the Strozzi, Riccardi, and Pazzi Palaces, is attached to the corner. The Palace belongs to the family of Guadagni, whose gallery of pictures is adorned by two splendid landscapes by Salvator Rosa. The Guadagni derive their origin from Ser Guadagno di Guitto, a notary, who was one of the councillors of the Commune in 1204. From 1289 to 1528, the family reckon eleven Gonfaloniers and nineteen Priors. Bernardo Guadagni advised the exile of Cosimo de' Medici – Pater Patriæ – in 1433; in revenge for which, Cosimo, on his return, not being able to seize on Bernardo, who had made his escape, treacherously seized on his son, and caused him to be beheaded. One branch of the family settled in France, where they were received with honour at the Court of Francis I.
Buontalenti, Bernardo 1536 – 1608
Capello, Bianca d. 1587
Cronaca, Il 1454 – 1509
Ferruccio, Françesco, murdered 1530
Ghirlandaio, Ridolfo 1485 – 1560
Giovanni di San Giovanni 1576 – 1636
Henry VII., Emperor, attacked Florence 1312
Pocetti, Bernardo 1542 – 1591
Ridolfi, Lorenzo de', ambassador to Venice 1425
Ridolfi, Nicolò de', beheaded 1417
Rinuccini in Ireland 1645
Tasso, Torquato 1544 – 1595
Vanni, Ottavio 1585 – 1643
Velluti Buonaccorso died 1296
Chapter XXXVII: Santo Spirito
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