By Lisa Marie Conte Browne, Executive Director of the Friends of the Uffizi
The first Florentine Weekend was presented by Contessa Maria Vittoria Rimbotti, President of Friends of the Uffizy Gallery, in 2008. In 2010, we had the privilege to repeat this unforgettable experience.
The participating members included: Diann Scaravilli, Friends of the Uffizi Advisory Board Chairman, Mary Jo Zingale, Director of Operations, Daniela Di Lorenzo, Maude Cook, Dale H. Coudert, Willian & Rebecca Dunn, Carol Frankel, Gordon & Laney Lewis, Meir & Evelyn Nutman, Madeleine Parker, Leslie Rose & Denise McCann, Suzanne Stoll, Harry E. Teasley, Jr. & Anna Gervait, Linda J. Tufo, Richard & Marie Wackenhut, Farah Walters.
From October 22 to the 26, during the Florentine Weekend, we were able to attend luncheons and dinners in historic private palazzos, visit the Uffizi Gallery behind closed doors, and enjoy one of the most beautiful cities in the world and the cradle of the Renaissance.
Contessa Maria Vittoria Rimbotti welcomed us in her residence, Villa Il Garofalo, where it is difficult to describe the breathtaking view of Florence. The original complex of the villa dates back to the thirteenth century. We attended the cocktail hour, followed by a formal dinner in a wonderfully frescoed dining room. The Tuscan dinner was delicious and we all had a lovely time thanks to the Florentine friends that joined us for this event.
In the morning, a guided tour was given at the church of Santa Maria Novella, one of the most important Romanesque-Gothic churches in Tuscany, built by Dominicans in the 13th-century. The lower part of the marble façade is Romanesque Gothic in style and was commissioned by the Dominican Friar Jacopo Talenti, while the upper part was completed 100 years later by Leon Battista Alberti. The interior of the church houses beautiful stained-glass windows and extraordinary works of art including Masaccio’s “Trinita’,” Giotto’s “Crucifix,” and frescoes by Ghirlandaio and Filippino Lippi.
We were guided thorough the premises of Santa Maria Novella, which includes one of the world’s oldest pharmacies. By the late 15th century the pharmaceutical activities included the manufacture of perfumes, with the most famous customer being Caterina de’ Medici. The pharmacy still occupies its historic quarters, selling traditional elixirs, along with oils, perfumes and soaps, many made according to the ancient formulas. The guided tour was followed by a cocktail buffet.
In the evening we had an opportunity to step back in time during a private tour of the Davanzati Palazzo Museum, known as the Ancient Florentine Home, built in the mid-14th century with furnishings from the 14th to the 19th centuries. The tour was followed by Marquis Lamberto de’ Frescobaldi’s Tuscan wine tasting, enchanting the group with both his wine and family history. A memorable dinner followed in the courtyard of the palazzo.
On Sunday we toured Villa la Pietra, historical residence of Sir Harold Acton and now New YorkUniversity. In 1907 Arthur Acton and his wife purchased the villa that was later inherited by their son Harold. At Harold’s death the villa was bequeathed to New YorkUniversity. The main residence, home to the Acton Collection, is surrounded by a spectacular 16th century Tuscan garden. The weather was spectacular and after viewing the Acton Collection and spending time in the magnificent gardens, we enjoyed a Tuscan BBQ in an adjoining villa.
For dinner Mr. and Mrs. Giovanni Gentile, members of Amici degli Uffizi Board of Directors, welcomed us in their lovely house with a splendid view of Florence.
Monday, when the Uffizi Gallery is closed to the public, our group enjoyed the privilege of meandering through the Uffizi Gallery’s many treasures highlighted by the artworks restored by Friends of the Uffizi Gallery and Amici degli Uffizi. The presence of Antonio Natali, Director of the Uffizi Gallery, made the tour a spectacular experience.
One of the world’s most important museums, the Uffizi was established in 1560 by Giorgio Vasari, under the commission of Cosimo I dé Medici. The Uffizi Gallery houses an immense artistic heritage that includes paintings from the Middle Ages to modern times, ancient sculptures, miniatures tapestries and a remarkable collection of drawings and prints. Among the world renowned old master artists are: Giotto, Piero della Francesca, Botticelli, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Raphael, Titian and Caravaggio.
The other part of our group first toured the magnificent restored tapestries in Palazzo Vecchio and then had access to the Laboratory of Tapestry Restoration of the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, within Palazzo Vecchio (built between the 13th and 14th centuries as a seat of Priors, now the seat of the Town Hall).
The Laboratory is located on the top of the palace, with a wonderful view of Piazza della Signoria. We met Professor Gianna Bacci (Director of the Laboratory of Tapestry Restoration) who showed us step by step the extremely complicated process of how tapestries are repaired and restored, fascinatingly many of the old techniques are still being used.
In the afternoon we returned to the Uffizi Gallery to attend a classical music concert in the Botticelli room, with music by Purcell and Hayden and performed by the String Quartet Maurice of the prestigious Scuola di Musica di Fiesole.
The evening culminated with a dinner in historical Palazzo Frescobaldi, in the heart of Oltrarno, hosted by Marquis Vittorio and Marchinosses Bona de’ Frescobaldi. The palazzo as it is today is the result of the 1621 to 1644 works that grouped together several plots of land and buildings that the Frescobaldi family had owened since the 16th century.
The farewell dinner had a magical atmosphere, a culmination of the cordiality and warmth that developed during the weekend throughout the group.
On the last day we visited the Bronzino exhibition,“ Bronzino: Artist and Poet at the court of the Medici” at the Palazzo Strozzi. Bronzino, Agnolo di Cosimo Tori, 1503-1572, is considered one of the greatest painters of the sixteenth century, embodied the fullness of the “modern manner” in the years of the government of Cosimo de’ Medici. Florence is clearly the preferential location for a monographic exhibition on Bronzino since the majority of his paintings are still conserved here. This exhibition, the first devoted to Agnolo’s pictorial works, was part of important masterpieces on loan from museums all over the world.
After the exhibit, we gathered for lunch at the home of Professor Piero and Bettie Gambaccini a beautiful residence featuring a stunning view of Santa Croce.
Proceeds from the Florentine weekend will go toward the restoration of particular works of art, including Renaissance paintings, tapestries and ancient marble sculptures.
In conclusion, I am sure the members of the Friends of the Uffizi Gallery will agree that this trip was an experience that will forever be a cherished memory. We await the next journey with great anticipation.