Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning, and the Landmark Trust

If you are a fan of Elizabeth Barrett or Robert Browning, you will know they spent many years living in Florence. Their former home, which Elizabeth called Casa Guidi is preserved in the city, a stone’s throw from the Palazzo Pitti. I have been meaning to visit this august location for years, and finally made it there last month.

Elizabeth and Robert lived in Casa Guidi from 1847 to 1861. Their apartments were inside the 15th century Palazzo Guidi, at the south end of Via Maggio. The palazzo was originally constructed for the prominent Florentine family, the Ridolfi di Piazza, whose coat of arms adorns the facade.

In the 1840s, the Palazzo Guidi was divided into apartments and in July of 1847 the Browings rented one of the two furnished apartments. They lived in these graceful rooms on the piano mobile for 3 months. A year later, they rented the same rooms, unfurnished, at 25 guineas per year. They purchased their own furniture, had draperies made, and created their home. Their only child, Pen, was born in 1849 and grew up here. He learned to play the piano which was located in the dining room, and kept rabbits on the terrace outside.

Although the Brownings traveled, visiting Siena, Rome, Paris and England, they considered Florence as home.

When Elizabeth died in 1861, Robert commissioned this painting of the drawing room, as the literary sanctum in which she wrote. The painter was George Lignaty.

Below are some details of the lovely frescoed ceiling:

The sculpture and plaque above are on the wall of the entry to the palazzo.

It was Pen Browning’s greatest wish that Casa Guidi should be recreated and maintained in his parents’ memory, but that did not happen until 1971, when most of the apartment was purchased by the Browning Institute of New York.

The Browning Institute began the restoration process, opening the apartments to visitors and hosting lectures and exhibitions. The Institute restored both the green drawing room and bedroom decoration.

In 1990, the Landmark Trust, a charity which reduces historic buildings and makes them available for holiday rental, became involved with preserving Casa Guidi. The Browning Institute was in the process of transferring ownership of the Casa to Eton College, which is a public school in the town of Eton, near Windsor in Berkshire, England. Eton College approached the Landmark Trust to help with the restoration of the Casa, and to make it available to a wider public.

The transfer to Eton was completed in January 1992 and the Casa rooms were furnished as closely as possible to the Mighty painting. Family letters and the 1913 sale of Pen Browning’s possessions were consulted to make the restoration as authentic as possible.

The furnishings include Pen Browning’s desk, chest of drawers and 2 chairs, busts of Elizabeth and Robert, the sofa Elizabeth used in London, copies of the Mighty painting, the painting of St. Jerome and the portrait of Pen. Other items include the original drawing room mirror, and a copy of a bronze plaque featuring the head of Aeschilus. The brocade curtains match as nearly as possible those described in Elizabeth’s letters and other Browning possessions.

Now operated as a part of the Landmark Trust, the apartment can be leased for holidays throughout the year. Up to 6 people can be accommodated. I had a sneak peak of the accommodations, which include a number of stairs

The principal rooms are open to visitors on Monday, Wednesday and Friday afternoons between 3 and 6 p.m. from April to November.

The Landmark Trust

The Trust maintains 198 historic, interesting and unusual buildings that can be leased for self-catering holidays. They include castles, forts, follies, banqueting houses, a lighthouse, a railway station, a former prison and a stone pineapple. Most of the properties are in Great Britain but 7 are in Italy; 5 in the USA; one in Waterloo, Belgium and 3 in France.

The Trust’s address is:

Shottesbrooke, Maidenhead, Berkshire SL6 3SW, UK

Telephone: +44 (0) 1628 825925

Website: http://www.landmarktrust.org.uk

Email: bookings@landmarkturst.org.uk

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