Art Nouveau in Florence


Everyone knows Florence is rich beyond compare in its museums, churches and squares, but it is in the everyday elements of markets, residential streets and even hotels that I love to find surprises of extraordinary artistic examples.

Here are some examples:

Hotel Brunelleschi, Piazza Sant’ Elisabetta #3 is a good place to start. This hotel was formerly the Stella Italia Hotel, and it integrates several pre-existing buildings, among which is the medieval Tower of the Pagliuzza as well as the ancient church of St. Michael in Palchetto. The first floor of the hotel has its Liberty Hall, preserved in excellent condition, featuring the stained-glass windows created by Galileo Chini Manufacturing between 1907 and 1911. The window have a floral motif. The left window has a scenes of exotic birds with golden apples and white berries, interspersed with thin foliage. The right window features a pergola from which vines dangle, with bunches of grapes visible through multi-colored leaves.

Hotel Roma, Piazza Santa Maria Novella #8, contains a set of nine stained-glass windows, and the wall decorations were created by Tito Chini and Galileo Chini in 1928. There are a basket of flowers, putti who support festoons, and fish. Each window has a rectangular based and is framed by a border of geometrical designs. The frieze above bears the monogram of the hotel, HR, in the center. Tito Chini also designed many of the furnishings, giving this hotel a harmonic Art Nouveau interior.

The Hotel Regency, at Piazza Massimo d’Azelio #3, commissioned Tito Chini to create stained-glass windows in 1926. The ground floor rooms have sixteen stained-glass windows, mounted in pairs on doors and windows. Each panel features a man or a woman. The clothing the figures wear is inspired from the world of the 18th century courts. Some of the women wear a full skirt and tight bodice, with a hat with big brims and rich plumage. They hold yellow parasols. Some of the men wear overcoats in scarlet, the jabot trimmed with lace knotted like a scarf and embroidered trousers that end above the knee. The men hold swords and strike a gallant pose. The cartoons for the Tito Chini’s windows were originally intended for the villa Le Maschere, near Barberino del Mugello, then belonging to the Ricci Crisolini family. However, the actual windows were only produced in 1932 for the small villa in Piazza d’Azelio, which at the time belonged to the Crisolini.

Cavour Hotel, located in Via del Proconsolo #3, contains lovely evidence of the work of Galileo Chini. Inside the adjoining restaurant, Beatrice, are two rooms decorated not only with stained-glass, but also with ceiling and wall frescoes, all by Galileo and Tito Chini from 1930. The four windows have figures of putti: one in a pose, the second supporting a festoon of corncobs and ears of wheat, the third bearing a festoon of leaves, and the fourth holding grapes and other fruits.

The Cassa di Risparmio of Florence Building, Via M. Bufalini #6, is the headquarters of this bank. The entry doors are a lovely blend of wrought iron and plates of opalescent glass. The larger window is topped with a lunette bearing a medallion with the bipartisan shield, with Saint John the Baptist and the Florentine Lily. Galileo and Tito Chini created these works in 1926. The external windows have a dolphin motif, a recurrent motif in the Chini brothers productions.

Cimitero Monumentale Misericordia, Antella, outside Florence. This cemetery of the Confraternity of the Misericordia of St. Mary was begun in 1856 and is a gallery of art. The private chapels and tombs created for those buried here were done by artists chosen by their purchasers. You will find sculpture and decorative ensembles in small buildings done in the antique style typical of Florentine workshops of the 15th century, as well as commissions create for outstanding contemporary artists like Dario, Leto, Galileo and Tito Chini. Their workshop, the San Lorenzo Manufacturing Furnances, was active in the first half of the 20th century, and is evident in this cemetery in numerous works of painting, ceramics, and glass works.

In 1906, Galileo and Leto painted the dome of a chapel dedicated to St. Matilda of the Misericordia, and at the same time, Princess Matilde Carafa di San Lorenzo commissioned the same artists to decorate her private chapel designed by Architect Roster and built by engineer Guidi. In 1910. the Chini decorated a private chapel for the Barocchi family and the vault of another chapel dedicated to St. Guido. The latter was commissioned by the Misericordia.

In 1911, Galileo Chini frescoed the dome of the central entrance arch with a scene of angels and he also frescoed the porch. He gave his student, Gaetano Ciampalini, the job of decorating the private chapel because Galileo was commissioned to decorate the imperial palace in Thailand.

Upon his return to Italy, Galileo directed his interests elsewhere, but the work of the St. Lorenzo Furnaces, favored by architect Giusti, who became director of works in 1923, continued through the work of Tito between 1924 and 1931. They supplied floors, covering, fichu, lunettes, panels, globes, flower vases and stained-glass windows.

In 1946 Galileo Chini returned to the cemetery of Antella to bury his young daughter, Isotta, and in the chapel dedicated to St. Silvester, he shows her from the back at the foot of the Cross, kneeling with the Holy Women. Galileo also painted the lunette above the door and 10 years later finds the peace of the sepulchre beside his daughter.

The Chamber of Commerce Building

The building which accommodates the premises of the Chamber of Commerce of Florence goes back to the second half of the 19th-century. Although it is a building of relatively recent construction, it nevertheless has an antique heart, having inherited the site of a building of very great historical interest, the Tiratoio of Piazza d’Arno, also known as “of the beams” attributed by some to Arnolfo di Cambio. The Tiratoio was an “industrial” building, specifically organized for drying woollen materials after the processes of fulling, washing or dying. Here, as in other similar buildings, situated in the urban area, a great part of the Florentine wool production was concentrated. These particular productive structures belonged to the rich and powerful corporation of the Art of Wool and were at the disposal of the Florentine wool merchants, who could carry out a part of their production and trading there.

When the medieval corporations of the Arts were definitively dissolved by Pietro Leopoldo, the vast patrimony of the Arts of Wool was entrusted to the newly-born Chamber of Commerce . In fact, the Tiratoio of Piazza d’Arno, together with other important productive structures, became the property of the Chamber. Later, when the desire of the Grand Duke was that of realizing a new building capable of housing together the Chamber, the Stock Exchange of Commerce and the National Bank of Tuscany, the choice of the area occupied by the antique Tiratoio appeared to be the most natural. The area was sufficiently large and the position central, and the Tiratoio, even though still in use, could be demolished, because the wool industry had undergone a decline. Reasons of urban decorum and also security, seeing that its structures were mainly wooden, justified its demolition. Such an operation was made easier by the fact that the Tiratoio already belonged to the Chamber of Commerce.

In the history of this building one may read the continuity between medieval Florence, the grand-ducal one, and the birth of the new “Palace of the Stock Exchange”, still the premises of the Florentine Chamber of Commerce. The antique building of the Tiratoio left in inheritance the difficult symbolic representation of the economy of Florence on the spectacular scenario of the Arno embankment.

In the course of time, the transformations of this building, through unifications and structural and architectural modifications, have been countless.

It is important to remember an internal restructuring which had, above all, involved the eastern side, realized and put into effect by the architect Ugo Giusti between 1914 and 1915. This intervention of Giusti, who in that period was simultaneously involved in the realization of the Berzieri Thermal Baths in Salsomaggiore, which would make him famous, was very limited and destined only to the rearrangement of the rooms. The most interesting intervention worth mentioning was the realization an atrium, previously non-existent, at the entrance from Piazza dei Giudici, enhanced by the mural decorations with tempera of Galileo Chini. It is interesting to know that this decoration, in neo-Renaissance style, is still in existence on the ceiling of the atrium, even though currently hidden behind the subsequent furnishings in wood.

While externally the building remained unchanged for a number of years, in 1931 an intervention was decided upon which foresaw the elevation of the whole attic, thus obtaining the second floor, and bringing the building to its present volumetry.
Itinerario Liberty – Planning and Realization – Stefano Pelosi –

The Building of Postal and Telegraph Services

The building of the Postal and Telegraph Services in Florence, situated in Via Pellicceria No.3, was inaugurated to the public in 1917 and still today, on the inside, it is possible to admire, during the opening hours to the public, the stained-glass windows realized by Galileo Chini.

The surface of the great velarium, arranged as a covering of the Hall of distribution, is composed of four corner panels and the same number of decorative lateral bands, formed of vitreous panels each inscribing a rosette. Each of the four oeil-de-boeufs arranged on the side bands represents an allegory of the Elements, referring to the antique and modern systems of postal transport.

The symbology is materialized through the images of the small craft alluding to the postal craft already in service from the Early Middle Ages and symbolizes Water, of the winged moon recalling the antique use of homing pigeons and to the modern flying equipment of the postal services and symbolizes Air, of the rail tracks which recall the images of a letter with sealing wax and of a postilion horn and symbolize the Earth and the electric discharges of the electrical conductors testify the incipient use of the telegraph and symbolizes Fire.

Galileo Chini is the author of the imaginative allegorical reconstructions which, as mentioned, have decorated the velarium since 1917, carried out as the necessary architectural completion of the hall, assigned to the public and conceived according to the functional typology of the premises covered by a structure of metal and glass carried out by the workshops of the Pignone.
Itinerario Liberty – Planning and Realization – Stefano Pelosi –

Church of St. Ferdinand of the Pius House of Montedomini

The present imposing building of the Pius House of Montedomini occupies a piece of ground near the Arno, which in 1476 had been bestowed to the hospital of Santa Maria Nuova so that they could build a leprosarium, entitled to St. Sebastian, afterwards eliminated because of the Siege of 1529. The building used as a hospital was, in fact, used to build two convents of Franciscan nuns who had had to leave their original residences which were outside the city walls: Santa Maria Annunziata of Monticelli and the other, Santa Maria Assunta of Montedomini.

The communities built two adjacent monasteries, overlooking Via Dé Malcontenti and the buildings remained separate until 1808 when, following the Napoleonic suppressions, the Depository of Beggary was set up there. The architect Giuseppe Del Rosso reorganized the two monastic complexes contriving a single architectural structure, with a long unifying facade developed on via Dé Malcontenti adapting the internal spaces to the new requirements.

The institution was later transformed to accommodate poor children and old people in difficulty and assumed the name of Pius House of Work. It was recognized Pius Work in 1866, keeping the name of Montedomini, heritage of the antique convent of Poor Clare.

The plan of the church is similar to that of other 16th-century female monasteries , with the chorus reserved to the nuns on the colonnade with Tuscan capitals. On the rear walls two choruses unfold, a motif which then greatly appreciated in the Florentine architecture in the late 16th-century and in the 17th-century.

In the apsidal chapel a great wooden Crucifix and a copy of the “Madonna of the Harpies” by Andrea del Sarto are preserved. The vault of the church, in which there is the fresco of “The Virgin who passes the baby to St. Francis” realized by Veracini, shows rich architectonic quadratures. On the left side altar, a copy of the painting of Jacopo da Empoli “Sant’Ivo” and a lunette portraying “The Eternal Father” are fitted in. On the same wall a painting of Giuseppe Grifoni “Death of St. Romualdo” originating from Santa Maria degli Angeli is hanging. The altar of the right wall shows “The Adoration of the Wise Men” by Francesco Conti.

“The Last Supper” of the ex-refectory is by a Florentine artist of the middle 17th-century, while in 1925 Galileo Chini painted “Garibaldian Recollections” and “The Altar of the Homeland in Rome” in other rooms. The choice of these subjects on the part of Galileo Chini was motivated by the destination of a new wing to the survivors of the War of Independence.
Itinerario Liberty – Planning and Realization – Stefano Pelosi –

The Broggi Caraceni Villa

The construction of the small villa of the Roman tailor Enrico Broggi, realized on a project of the architect Giovanni Michelazzi was begun in 1910 by the building company Pietro Gherardelli and was finished in 1911, as the date engraved together with the signature of the architect on the ceramic panel above the corner balcony testifies. In the realization of the villa the external ceramic decorations were carried out by the Manufacturing Furnaces of San Lorenzo, the stucco-decoration was the work of Angiolo Vannetti, the pictorial decorations were executed by Galileo Chini, the polychromatic stained-glass windows by Ezio Giovannozzi and the internal and external wrought iron was forged by the Michelucci Workshops of Pistoia.

The building rises in via Scipione Ammirato next to the villa Ravazzini, in the 19th-century quarter which is distinguished by the presence of numerous small villas, typical of the homes of the lower and medium middle-class of the early 20th-century, and by the homes of various Florentine artists like Chini, Tofanari, Vannetti who, in the first twenty years of the century, chose this quarter to establish their homes and studios. Surrounded by a small piece of land and separated from the street by an enclosing wall with a rail fence at the end, the Broggi – Caraceni villa rises up on two floors above ground and presents a trapezoidal structure, articulated on the inside around the fulcrum of a spiral staircase.

The interior, perfectly restored in the Seventies, entirely preserves the decorative scenery, the stained-glass windows, the doors and the floors. The rooms are arranged around the circular stairwell, covered with a dome and illuminated by a coloured lantern with a wrought iron structure in the form of a large spider. The main spiral staircase preserves the banisters in wrought iron modelled in the form of a stylized dragon at the beginning of the flight of stairs and terminating in a stem of a torch holder.

The dome is decorated with paintings of female figures dancing, the work of Galileo Chini. Frescos of Galileo Chini are also present on the walls and on the ceiling of the octagonal entrance hall and in the other living-rooms. The flooring of the stairwell is in mosaics, with the same patterns as that of the entrance hall, while in the other rooms on the ground floor one may find the original parquet, with inlaid geometrical motifs.

Some rooms on the ground floor and on the first floor preserve the painted stained-glass windows. The communication between the two floors is also assured by a service stairway at the back, which also communicates with the basement. The latter is composed of a vast octagonal environment on arriving, which gives free access to another two rooms and a small laundry. The large kitchen preserves the table with its pedestal in brickwork, the sink top and the original tiling of the period.
Itinerario Liberty – Planning and Realization – Stefano Pelosi –

The Giulio Lampredi Villa

The small villa was realized on the design of the architect Michelazzi between 1908 and 1909 for the builder Giulio Lampredi. The building enterprise was the Lampredi Brothers, while the ceramic decoration on the facade was the work of Galileo Chini.

Realized with a structure of chained walls, as an earthquake-proof precaution, the villa rises up the area outside the wall of Oltrarno, as an embellishment of Via Giano Della Bella which has an exclusively residential nature. A regular establishment, surrounded on two sides by the proprietary garden, the small villa finds its qualification essentially in the refined and articulated design of the surfaces of the facade. It stands above ground for two floors, above a small base covered in travertine onto which the two coupled windows in the form of drops, which give light to the basement, open out.

On the inside, the ground floor is composed of an entrance hall with a short stairway in stone, four living-rooms, the office and two bathrooms. The doors, of which the one communicating with the office has coloured windows, are still present, as is the original flooring in stone and in concrete, decorated with small floral motifs or with carpet decoration, with phyto-morphic or geometrical chessboard motifs. Small ceramic decorations are still preserved on the ground floor, amongst which a panel, work of Galileo Chini, in the entrance hall, and a band of small rectangular tiles decorated with a floral motif in the service bathroom, almost wholly preserved.

The stairway communicating with the upper floor is in plain stone in three flights, and preserves the original banisters in wrought iron decorated with vegetable racemes and with the handrail in wood. The stairwell is illuminated indiscriminately by a skylight in a rectangular shape closed by coloured panes of glass with a stylized vegetable decorative motif in iron. The first floor is composed of four rooms and a bathroom, and one of the rooms presents a decoration in stucco on the ceiling, hardly classifiable as original, given the traditional nature, imitating the classical style, of the frames and the oval design.
Itinerario Liberty – Planning and Realization – Stefano Pelosi –

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