Palazzo Nonfinito, Florence

A few days ago I published a post on the Anthropology museum in Florence. It is housed in a major late Renaissance palazzo called the Palazzo Nonfinito. Today’s post is about this historic building in Florence, located with its main facade on via del Proconsolo 12, but with a 2nd, notable elevation on Borgo degli Albizi 32. Another way to situate the palazzo is that it sits smack on the corner called Canto de’ Pazzi.

The meaning of the name, Palazzo Nonfinito–which means “unfinished palazzo”– is that many architects worked on it, but no one ever “finished” it. The first time this name is mentioned is in a guidebook to Florence, published in 1822.

The palace appears in the list drawn up in 1901 by the General Directorate of Antiquities and Fine Arts, as a monumental building to be considered as an example of national artistic heritage.

Above, on the left side of the street, the gigantic palazzo with a double roofline. Below, a detail of the double roof:

The literature on the Nonfinito palace is extensive. There are many hypotheses put forward by historians on the origins of its construction, but only at the beginning of the 20th century did the historian Jodoco Del Badia create a chronology, supported by archival references, where events, clients and the first designer are precisely cited.

Above, sadly, the modern sign designating the palazzo shows signs of graffiti and abuse.

Alessandro Strozzi apparently planned the monumental home.The palace was erected over some houses and towers that Strozzi purchased from Camillo de’ Pazzi, the father of Santa Maria Maddalena de’ Pazzi, in November 1592. Other adjacent properties belonging to the Niccolini and Perini families were incorporated; after the demolition of a shop of a very popular apothecary, construction began on the Strozzi palace in July 1593.

Due to economic difficulties, Alessandro was forced to sell the entire complex to his brother Roberto, half in 1596 and the other half the following year. Often absent for long business stays in Venice, Roberto left the direction of the works to his brother, exempting him from sharing the costs. Another brother, Bernardo, made available the stones extracted from his own quarry located in Le Campora (near the Marignolle hill). In the formal request to the city for permission to construct the windows, we have the first mention of architect Bernardo Buontalenti.

It is likely that Buontalenti drew inspiration for the project from the work of Michelangelo , whose works he often studied.

The first published mention of the building is found in the 1615 treatise, L’idea dell’Architettura Universale, by Vincenzo Scamozzi, an architect from Vicenza. Scamozzi attributed the entire authorship of the building to Buontalenti; later historians who instead highlighted the alternation of several subsequent architects.

In the foreground we see a “kneeling window”, a design first used and made famous by Michelangelo. It is so-named because the shape of the consoles supporting the windowsill; they reach almost to the ground like a pair of legs.

Around the middle of the 17th century, Gherardo Silvani in his Vita di Bernardo Buontalenti, attributed the façade of Borgo degli Albizi to Buontalenti.

Above, the window is surmounted by the Strozzi coat of arms, which includes crescent moons in various arrangements, see below:

In 1724, Ferdinando Ruggeri in the Civil Architecture Studio provided the first survey of the building and attributed the construction to several architects, without, however, indicating his sources.

Filippo Baldinucci, documenting the construction phases, provided the chronology below. Baldinucci is considered among the most significant Florentine biographers/historians of the artists/arts of the Baroque period. Patronised by the Medici, he aspired to become the new Giorgio Vasari by renewing and expanding Vasari’s biographies of artists. Baldinucci added the lives of French and Flemish artists to Vasari’s roster. His most important work was this biographical dictionary of artists, Notizie de’ professori del disegno da Cimabue in qua, of which the publication began in 1681 and continued after his death.

Baldinucci’s chronology was also taken up in 1910 by Walther Limburger:

From 1593 to 1600 the project by Bernardo Buontalenti was carried out, assisted by Matteo Nigetti. The beginning of the works, the construction of the ground floor, the portal of the Borgo degli Albizi and the “kneeling windows” are attributed to them.

In 1600, Buontalenti came into conflict with the Strozzi family about the location of the main staircase within the palazzo, which was later built to the right of the atrium by architect Santi di Tito. Buontalenti apparently abandoned the palazzo as a result of his conflict with Strozzi.

From 1600 to 1612 Vincenzo Scamozzi was given the task of completing the palazzo and Giovanni Battista Caccini directed the work. The very high entrance on Via del Proconsolo and the first floor decorated with Ionic pilasters in a giant order are attributed to them. In addition, Caccini, who was better known as a sculptor, was credited with the marble coat of arms of the Strozzi at the top of the corner of the building.

Scamozzi probably had Buontalenti’s drawings available from which he took inspiration but, contrary to what he said, he found the palazzo already started. Furthermore, the chronological list of his works shows in the same period other important construction sites started in Veneto and Salzburg, commitments that certainly limited his stay in the Florence and thus his presence on the construction site. It is safe to assume that he only had time to finish the work already started, provide a new plan and find an architect to carry it out.

Around 1604, Lodovico Cardi, known as Cigoli, a pupil of Buontalenti, built the courtyard. From 1612 onwards, when Caccini died, Nigetti returned to direct the work again.

In both Buontalenti’s and Scamozzi’s projects, the building included two other floors (for a total of 3), but in fact neither the interiors nor the main façade were completed, which led to the current name of the building “Nonfinito.”

Other information about the construction phases of the interior and the changes of ownership, are contained in the text by Luigi Biadi News on the ancient unfinished buildings in Florence (1824). Despite the lack of archival evidence, Biadi believed that the reason that prevented the completion of the building was the traditionally narrated rivalry between important families. He writes:

<< Many disputes had arisen between the family that descended from Duke Salviati, between that of the Medici and Roberto Strozzi. The Salviati family claimed that Roberto Strozzi should not continue the building of the palace; perhaps not to allow the new construction of a building in proximity, nor almost opposite, nor with greater splendor than their own. Unwilling to submit to such a harsh law, and refusing to compromise on this and the remaining disputes, the Salviati and Medici resorted to the Giudiciara Power, asking to inhibit the continuation of the building of the building in the first place and to decide on all the issues against Strozzi himself. The sentence is said to be issued in any relationship favorable to the Salviati and the Medici. >>

A large dedicatory plaque from 1607 sits above the portal on the the Albizi street facade, commemorating the munificence of Ferdinando I de Medici. Would this suggest a relaxed relationship at least with the Medici?

The property passed from the Strozzi family in 1802 to Giovanni Guasti who in 1814 sold it to the Royal Government of Tuscany. Pasquale Poccianti was commissioned to adapt the palazzo to accommodate the offices of the Royal Customs Office; the departments of the Community Chamber and the Soprasindaco; and the office of the Deputation of Mendicity. In 1850 the building housed the offices of the Prefecture, the Foreigners Office and the Delegation of the San Giovanni district.

In 1865 the palazzo passed to the Kingdom of Italy; in the period when Florence was capital (1865-1871) the building was chosen as the seat of the Council of State. This involved the consolidation, restoration and decoration of some rooms designed by the architect Francesco Mazzei, with the direction of the construction site entrusted to the engineer Nicola Nasi.

The palazzo was purchased and used by the Post and Telegraphs from 1901 to 1911 (since the Central Post Office building in via Pellicceria had not yet been built); in 1917 it was occupied by military offices.

After being given to the University of Florence in 1919, the building was named as the seat of the National Museum of Anthropology and Ethnology, founded by Paolo Mantegazza. His collections were transferred to the palazzo in 1924 and officially inaugurated in 1932. The museum was later expanded by Aldobrandino Mochi, Nello Puccioni and others.

A few years after the opening of the museum, the façade underwent major restorations conducted between 1938 and 1944 directed by Piero Sanpaolesi. It suffered some damage during the World War and was restored in 1948. Other restorations were carried out in 1956, 1967, 1972.

Now let’s look at the current elevation of the palazzo:

On the Via del Proconsolo, 6 “kneeling windows” are symmetrically arranged on the ground floor with respect to the large arched door attributed to Caccini. The door is surmounted by a balcony and the Strozzi coat of arms held by a winged lion. Above is a balustrade beyond which opens a large window closed by an arch resting on coupled columns, surmounted by figured capitals and a dedicatory inscription.

Near the corner at the top, another very ornate marble coat of arms is clearly visible, with two female figures holding up the shield with the family arms ; this sculpture can be traced back to Caccini

On the Borgo degli Albizi facade: There is a Tympanum with winged monster. Although this facade is considered to be a secondary elevation, this facade is complete in every detail. Ferdinando Ruggieri dedicated most of his surveys to this portion. He stated that the authorship of the first floor belonged to Bernardo Buontalenti; that of the second to belonged Vincenzo Scamozzi.

On the left there is a small aedicule, inserted in the ashlar, which once housed a crucifixion which has unfortunately disappeared.

On the ground floor, masked by a fake ashlar, a small secret door is barely visible which corresponds to the house number 30, used as a secondary passage by the informers who went to the offices of the Regia Dogana.

The courtyard is traditionally attributed to Lodovico Cigoli. It is characterized by Venetian influences, perhaps inspired by Scamozzi, reinterpreted with typically Florentine elements. It has a ground floor loggia decorated with serliana motifs on Tuscan columns; two of the four sides made as a square in 1604 are attributable to Lodovico Cardi known as il Cigoli. The other two are the result of the style completion carried out by engineer Nasi in 1865-1866.

In a niche, prospectively built in front of the main entrance, there is a 16th-century statue, Perseus killing the dragon, by the sculptor Giovanni Battista Lorenzi. In the loggia on the right there is a bust of Paolo Mantegazza, founder of the Museum of Anthropology, created by Ettore Ximenes, a marble plaque dedicated to Nello Puccioni and a medallion in memory of Aldobrandino Mochi. Both Puccioni and Mochi enriched the museum’s collections with their donations.

The monumental staircase begins to the right of the interior entrance and occupies a considerable space; it is covered by barrel vaults and runs at an elbow angle with three flights.

And finally:

There are numerous stories related to this building in the city center. A disturbing legend tells that a young man, in love with Alessandro Strozzi’s daughter, promised to impress the Strozzi that the work would be completed in just one year. Realizing the impossible undertaking, the young man decided to make a pact with the devil, to whom he promised his soul in exchange for the construction of the building.

The exchange, however, was never concluded: it seems that the young man, in a cunning moment, asked the devil to finish the work with a series of sacred decorations. Faced with this request, the devil ran away in horror at the cry of “Not finished! Not finished! ” thus saving the soul of the lover. Since then, a demonic curse seems to hover over this building, which for centuries has been condemned to be an “Unfinished” palace.


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