Last month, I finally visited the Palazzo Martelli, which I’ve walked by for several years, always hoping to enter. It’s only open a few days of the week and only by guided tour, but it is so worth the visit! I highly recommend!
For centuries–right up to the 1980s– the the Palazzo Martelli was the residence of one of Florence’s oldest noble families. A visit to this jewel of a museum takes the visitor into a suite of opulent period interiors, including the ground-floor stanze paese (landscape rooms), whose walls and ceilings are painted with trompe-l’œil scenes; an elegant grand staircase leading to the piano nobile; the spaces of the main floor, which include a chapel, a ballroom, fascinating picture galleries, and a great hall and other richly-decorated rooms.
Palazzo Martelli underwent a series of renovations in the early 18th century, under the care of Niccolò Martelli and his son Giuseppe Maria, who was the archbishop of Florence. Although there had been Martelli family homes on this site from at least the 13th century, it was only in 1738 that the family’s residence was transformed into the palazzo we see today. It was designed by architect Bernardino Ciurini, and decorated by the painters Vincenzo Meucci, Bernardo Minozzi and Niccolò Contestabile, and the stuccatore (stucco artisan) Giovan Martino Portogalli. The exterior, as shown above, presents a sober, austere image to the outside world, with only the balcony to soften the hard edges. This hard exterior is the way Florentines presented themselves to the outer world. But, oh, what lies inside is quite the opposite!
Today, Casa Martelli houses the last Florentine example, in public hands, of a well-known art collection formed largely during the 17th and 18th centuries. A visit proceeds through the rooms of the ground floor and the piano nobile, updated according to the tastes of the period, where visitors can enjoy the picture gallery—rich with masterpieces such as Piero di Cosimo’s Adorazione del Bambino, two wedding panels (pannelli nuziali) by Beccafumi, and magnificent paintings by Luca Giordano and Salvator Rosa—as well as the antique furniture, tapestries, and various decorations and objects dispersed throughout the home.
Casa Martelli remained in the Martelli family’s possession until the death of Francesca Martelli in 1986. For a brief period, the residence passed into the hands of the Florentine Curia, to whom Francesca had bequeathed the palazzo in her will, before eventually becoming property of the Italian State.
Two of the most outstanding art works that the Martelli family possessed have now been removed from the palazzo and are in the Bargello and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Both are attributed to Donatello. The monumental coat-of-arms that Donatello created for Roberto Martelli is now in the Museo Nazionale del Bargello collection. Today a copy hangs in the place of honor. You see it below, on the far wall with a red background.
Likewise, a statue of David also attributed to Donatello (see below) once stood in this hall; today the statue is in Washington, D.C.
Currently the museum is only open to visits a couple of days of the week, and then only with a guided tour. If you get the chance, you should definitely visit the casa, or palazzo. It is wonderful.
But, if you can’t wait or can’t get to Florence, you can fortunately take a virtual tour of the museum here: http://www.polomuseale.firenze.it/musei/visita/casamartelli/tour.html
Even accounting for the loss and dispersal of items, the collection remains impressive, including works by Piero di Cosimo, Francesco Francia, Francesco Morandini, Salvator Rosa, Giordano, Beccafumi, Sustermans, Michael Sweerts, Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Orazio Borgianni, Francesco Curradi, and collections of small bronzes, including some by Soldani Benzi. The works are displayed in the crowded arrangement typical of the period.
When you visit the casa today, you enter through large wooden doors and an iron gate, both dating to 1799. Inside the building, at the far end of a short interior courtyard, is a mural painting with an illusory effect, done in 1802 by Gaspero Bargioni.
One enters a door to the grand staircase from this cortile:
The original ironwood of this staircase is fabulous!
Where you see the neoclassical sculpture of Psyche, imagine a statue of David by Donatello standing there. That’s the work of art the Martelli family displayed in this place of honor. The Donatello statue is today in Washington, D.C.
Below is the copy of the Donatello coat of arts made for the Martelli family. The original is in the Bargello.
Entering the first gallery off the entrance, you begin to enjoy the art collections for which the Martelli family was renowned, including the many outstanding ceiling frescoes they commissioned over the centuries for this opulent family home.
In the painting below, we catch a glimpse of members of the Martelli family in the 17th century. A servant offers them a tray bearing cups of the hot chocolate which were a la mode at the time. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall!
Many of the doors throughout these galleries are embellished with these gilt decorations, every door with a different combination of items:
The artist signed his name on the ceiling mural, as you can see below:
I was interested in these little pops of passamaneria (trimmings) found covering the nailheads that these paintings are hung on. I’m a huge fan of all things passamaneria, and I’ve never seen anything like these before. I love it when I experience something completely new!
Now we enter the 2nd gallery, with its own wonderful ceiling mural. I was enchanted by these 2 little boys in the mural. They are busily talking pageboys, holding the lady’s train. What were they discussing, I need to know!
The door knobs in some of these galleries were fabulous! Butterflies!
The inlaid commesso fiorentino furniture was outstanding as well:
Next we enter the 3rd gallery, with a ceiling fresco treating the subject of Donatello as sculptor to the Martelli family. The connection was real and it is very entertaining to see its history play out on the ceiling!
That’s Donatello in the yellow smock:
Oops, another shot of my latest obsession.
Below: my other obsession.
Also notable in this room are the very old and very elegant draperies, also with very elegant trim or passamaneria.
And, of course, this family would own some fine Manifattura Richard Ginori ceramics:
The next gallery, with another fine frescoed ceiling:
In this room, I love the way the 2 drapery rods meet in the middle in a laurel wreath. The message is clear, the Martelli family was crowned with laurel:
That, of course, is Dante in the red, accompanied by Petrarch and Boccacio. Naturally they are crowned with laurel wreaths and the putto is sailing in with an extra, just in case:
In the next room, a private chapel was built for the last Martelli owner of the home. It is really quite something in terms of casework.
I don’t remember ever seeing a painting of a swaddled Christchild before. Another something new.
I’ve still got more to show you, but this post is already too long. I’ll finish it tomorrow…stay tuned!
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