Monday, July 29, 2013

Intrigue Behind the Façade of the Palazzo di Bianca Cappello

One of the reasons I always suggest for people to take a tour of Florence (and the other major historic cities) is that you can learn so many interesting things about the history of the monuments and the city itself. When walking the streets of Florence there are so many beautiful buildings to admire that often people just pass them by, without even noticing the particular architectural features and certainly unaware of their historical significance. Except for the major monuments, most visitors don’t realize how many of these lovely palazzi have a story to tell.

Due to its particular façade, this building might stand out when walking down Via Maggio. Known as the Palazzo di Bianca Cappello, it was built between 1570 and 1574 by the architect Bernardo Buontalenti, on the foundations of the original structure dating from the early 1400s. However, it’s the story behind the building that makes it unique. Commissioned by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, Franceso I de’Medici, for his mistress, Bianca Cappello, a Venetian noblewoman with whom he had fallen madly in love. He chose the site especially for its proximity to the Pitti Palace, his official residence, making it easy for him to visit his lover frequently. Their affair proved to be one of the most scandalous of the Renaissance period – as Francesco was married to Giovanna of Austria, and Bianca to Pietro Buonaventuri – who was (conveniently?) murdered on the streets of Florence in 1572.  

Bianca Capppello
After Giovanna’s premature death, Francesco was able to marry Bianca in 1579 and she then moved into Palazzo Pitti. Yet their story did not have a happy ending, as the Medici family was opposed to their relationship from the start and it is suspected that the couple’s death at the Medici Villa in Poggio a Caiano only 8 years later (and within hours of each other) might have been the result of poisoning.

The palazzo had been donated to the Hospital of Santa Maria Nuova when Bianca became grand duchess and it was then that the façade was painted with this particular decoration called sgraffito by Bernardino Poccetti. Today, the building belongs to the city of Florence and is used as an archive for the scientific and cultural institute Gabinetto Vieusseux.

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