A rare and magnificent example of a 14th-century residence in Florence, Palazzo Davanzati represents the transitional period between the medieval tower house and the Renaissance palace. The palace was built around the mid-14th century by the powerful Davizzi family of merchants and bankers, in Via Porta Rossa where resided such wealthy Florentine families as the Bartolinis, the Foresis, the Monaldis, and the Davanzatis themselves, who would later become the palace’s owners.
In 1516, the Bartolini family bought the palace and had it modernized. In 1578, Bernardo di Anton Francesco Davanzati bought the palace. The new owners lived there for about two centuries and had a 16th-century coat-of-arms with the family’s armorial bearings placed on the palace’s imposing façade. Since that time, it has always been known as Palazzo Davanzati.
The building’s strong vertical thrust indicates that it incorporated at least two tower-houses as well as other of the Davizzi family’s properties. Consisting of three floors surmounted by a covered roof-terrace, the important façade has a rusticated ground floor with three large segmental-arch openings, at one time without doors, which opened directly on to the street.
The transformation of the noble palace into a museum is owed to a hunch by the artist and collector Elia Volpi who bought it in 1904 and devoted himself to its careful restoration and furnishing. The rich collection of furniture, everyday objects, and furnishings of many kinds belonging to the Florentine interior decoration tradition was the basis for its first opening as the Museum of the ancient Florentine house.
The collection had its ups and downs and economic difficulties forced Volpi to sell it. Choosing New York for the first auction he contributed greatly to the spreading overseas of the taste for the Florentine style.
After a careful and long restoration and structural adaptation, the Palazzo Davanzati Museum is today one of the most striking and interesting places of the town’s museum heritage. Faithful to Elia Volpi’s ideas, the museum not only houses a valuable and comprehensive collection of objects, but it also bears true and interesting witness to the Renaissance Florence life style. Located on the third floor, the kitchen is not to be missed, showing us women’s domestic tasks within the family.
MORE ON PALAZZO DAVANZATI
Bedroom of the lady of the house decorated with frescoes depicting the legend of Chatelaine of Viergy
The Palace, built by the Davizzi family around mid-14th century, was purchased in 1578 by the Davanzati family (their coat of arms is still visible on the facade) and remained in their possession until 1838, when it was divided into several flats and suffered severe damage.
In 1904 it was purchased and restored by the antique dealer Elia Volpi, who entirely furnished it and opened it to the public in 1910 as Museum of the Old Florentine House. After alternate events, which comprised also the dispersion of the furniture pieces, the palace was purchased in 1951 by the State that reorganised it and opened it once more to the public in 1956.
The Palace, built by the Davizzi family
around mid-14th century
Its most important feature is the architectural structure that represents an interesting example of 13th century home showing the transition stage from the medieval tower house to the Renaissance building. The original facade was decorated with a three-arch loggia, now closed that was once open and used as a shop. A 16th century loggia replaces the usual medieval battlements at the top of the building.
The interior, which also has an underground gallery, has a suggestive courtyard on the ground floor that gives access to the stone and wood staircase with rampant arches leading up to the four upper floors. The arrangement of the building shows that the rooms of the first floor have the same layout of those on the third floor. Rooms are articulated in a “madornale”, that is a large audience hall, dining rooms, bedrooms and “agiamenti” (toilets), a rarity in elegant houses of the period. All the rooms have floors in cotto and ceilings in wood, some of which decorated with paintings. The walls of some of the rooms are decorated with frescoes and decorations that are quite popular in Florentine 13th century homes, representing curtains and coat of arms. The most beautiful rooms are the Sala dei Pappagalli (The Parrot Room) and the Bedroom with scenes of the life of the Lady of Viergy.
The present arrangement of the Museum aims at reconstructing the setting of an old Florentine home, with furniture and household tools from the 14th to the 19th centuries. Bedrooms display for instance chests full of linen and cots, while the audience hall on the first floor exhibits a rare painted cabinet, created by a Siennese artist of the 16th century, and the wooden painting showing The Game of Civettino by Giovanni di Ser Giovanni nicknamed “Scheggia” dating back to the 15th century and the marble bust of a Child by Antonio Rossellino, also dating back to the 15th century. The museum also preserves a very fine collection of old ceramics and the 17th century hand warmers in the shape of shoes.
The decorative frieze on the walls displays a series of coat-of-arms
A very important document in the story of the family and palace is the Genealogical tree of the Davanzati Family, a work by an anonymous Tuscan painter of the 17th century. The State has recently purchased a rare wooden chest or throne-bed” with inlaid front and headboard, rnanufactured in the Tuscan-Umbran area during the last quarter of the 15th century.
The kitchen on third floor exhibits furniture and ordinaly daily household, together with working tools, like looms, warping machines and spinning wheels that document some of the activities carried out in the house.
The Museum also displays a very fine collection of lacework ranging from the 16th to the 20th centuries and samplers.
The bedroom is decorated with the story of the Chatelaine of Viergy:
MEDIEVAL SOAP OPERA:
THE STORY OF THE CHATELAINE OF VIERGY
The adventures of the Burgundy Chatelaine and of William Cavalier (the Knight), their thwarted love, the jealous and cruel love of the “Duchess of Burgundy” was printed and quickly entered all foreign lands. The story of the Dame de Viergy was translated in English, German, Dutch but it was in Italy that became incredibly famous.
Frescoes depicting the legend of Chatelaine of Viergy