Word of the Day: Palazzo

For Wednesday, March 28.

Palazzo – (pa-LAH-ttso): Palace, large building, important building.

Today we went to the Palazzo Davanzati here in Florence. It isn’t visited by tourists all that much, so I thought I would write about it. You aren’t allowed to take pictures inside, so I have pulled a couple from the internet to show you.

This palazzo built in the late 1400s, is a fine example of what the home of a wealthy family might have looked like. Although the furnishings and paintaings aren’t necessarily from the renaissance, they are representative of furnishings in a home like this one. The palace has a ground floor entry area, leading up to 4 more floors of living space. The interior courtyard was open to the sky, so if you wanted to move from floor to floor of the house, you had to use stairways that were open to the elements. The ground floor of the courtyard has a big drain in the middle for catching rainwater and directing it to a cistern under ground.

On the first floor (just above ground level), there are wooden trap doors built into the floor so you could see who was coming, and, if it was an enemy you could pour hot oil or molten lead on him. There is a fireplace in this room for just such a purpose. Many of these rooms were covered with tapestries, lined with fur (usually squirrel fur), to keep the warm room. Some pieces of tapestries are on display.

Several of the rooms are decorated with murals of wall hangings, rather than actual tapestries. Above the paintings of wall hangings, they have painted a loggia with various trees, and above that, some Roman arches. Apparently, this was quite common in the Renaissance, but very few examples of this genre remain. The ceiling is beautifully carved and painted wood.










This home was one of the few that had its own well. A bucket on a pully goes down under ground to get water from the well, and then goes up through all 5 floors (including the ground floor) to service each level. It is hidden behind shuttered doors. It also has a bathroom on every floor, with exterior pipes made of clay to carry the waste away.. This was VERY advanced. We didn’t see a kitchen anywhere, which means it was either in the upper stories, or on the ground floor somewhere.

One of my favorite rooms was the “nuptial chamber”, a large bedroom not necessarily always occupied by the husband and wife, but certainly on their first night together. It has a fresco all the way around the top of the room that tells the soap-opera-like story of (I believe) French origin. In it, the king goes away to do whatever kings do while they’re away, leaving his queen at home alone. A young nobleman is visiting, and she decides to seduce him. They go for a walk in the woods where she tries to kiss him. He refuses because he is loyal to the king and besides, he’s in love with someone else. The queen then threatens the young man that if he doesn’t give in to her desires, she will get her revenge. He still refuses. When the king returns home, she tells her husband that the young man forced himself upon her. The king confronts the noble man and he says it isn’t so. In order to convince the king, he reveals that he is in love with a young woman and she is in love with him, too. In order to prove it, he has the king see him and his young lade in the garden together, necking. This is scandalous because nice young women aren’t supposed to be alone with a young man long enough to fall in love, let alone do any kissing. The girl’s family finds out about her love affair with the young man, and she is so ashamed that she kills herself. Her lover comes in and finds her dead and kills himself. The king is so angry with his wife, that he has her beheaded. Very sad story. It is painted on the bedroom wall as a warning to the wife about fidelity.

On the left, the queen threatens the young man. On the right, the young lovers meet in the garden.

Also in this room is a birthing salver, a painted tray given as a symbolic gift for a successful birth in Renaissance Florence. These were often commissioned by wealthy families from workshops around Florence. Only a few dozen remain and most of those are not in very good shape. The one in Palazzo Davanzati is in excellent shape, and it is so much fun. This isn’t a very good photo of it, but you can still see that it is a painting of two putti (cherubs) grabbing each other’s penises. The tray is about 2 feet across and made out of ceramic, I think.










There were also rooms with looms and lace, paintings, beautifully carved chairs, a locking “strongbox”, ceramic hand warmers in the shape of shoes, and many other interesting things. It’s worth a visit if you have the time, and it only costs €2 to get in with complimentary guided tours – one of the best deals in Florence.

We also had our second cooking class last night, but I have written so much about food, I thought I should write a little about art and culture for a change.