Villa del Poggio ImperialeFebruary 3, 2022 2023-02-27 13:59
Villa del Poggio Imperiale
First records and confiscation of the Villa by Cosimo de Medici
The earliest records of the villa, which dominates the Ema valley on the one side and Florence on the other, date back to 1427, the year in which Jacopo di Pietro Baroncelli reported his ownership to the Florentine land registry, describing it as a ‘gentleman’s house’.
After changing hands and being owned first by the Pandolfini and then by the Salviati, the villa was confiscated in 1564 by Cosimo de Medici.
For many decades, no noteworthy changes were made to the building until 1618 when Maria Magdalena of Austria, wife of the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo II, purchased the villa from the Orsini along with other lands in the environs. Thus began an ambitious plan to transform the property into a sumptuous suburban residence, connected to the city by the long avenue that ran from the park to Porta Romana (at the time called Porta di San Pier Gattolini).
Giulio Parigi’s interventions
In 1622 Giulio Parigi, already engaged in the rearrangement of Palazzo Pitti, began work on the villa.
Today we can still admire his central cloister, the general layout of the two gardens and the ground-floor rooms to the right and left of the façade. These include, in particular, the antechamber to Ferdinand II’s bedroom, Maria Magdalena’s audience room and the antechamber to her bedroom.
As for the exterior, the project for spaces destined for the cultivation of fruit trees and of flowers, corresponding to today’s two courtyards, date back to Maria Magdalena’s time, while the circular forecourt, used for festivals and torchlight processions, in 1624 was adorned with statues and a balustrade.
Beautification works in the late 17th century and the first half of the 18th century
Purchased by Vittoria Della Rovere in 1659, Villa il Poggio Imperiale went through a long and happy period characterised by extensive works of continuous embellishment and enrichment.
Between 1681 and 1682 a new arm was built in the southern part of the villa, on an axis with the more ancient courtyard, and that included two vast halls (one on the ground floor and one on the upper floor) and two chapels that have since disappeared, although a small fresco known and the “volticina” still remains.
The hall on the ground floor, today used as a dining hall, was intended to host a gallery of statues and it was here that Vittoria gave audience. On the upper floor (also called ‘piano nobile’), the Grand Duchess had a hall built that was intended as a picture gallery and embellished with frescoes by Volterrano. This hall was destroyed in the 18th century, however, at the behest of the Grand Duke Peter Leopold.
These works included the construction of the loggia, with a cross vault ceiling, surrounding the central square cloister at the entrance.
When Vittoria Dalla Rovere died in March 1694, her son Cosimo III inherited the villa which was then passed down to his son Giangastone, the last grand duke of the house of de Medici. Both refrained from changing much in the villa, the layout of which can be seen in two floor plans: one made by Ferdinando Ruggieri in 1737, and the other made in 1742.
The interventions by Gaspare Maria Paoletti
Between 1766 and 1783, Gaspare Maria Paoletti renovated the interiors with new bedrooms on the upper floor, decorating them with stucco and oriental fabrics and made them communicating through doors of different colours. He also added rooms on the ground floor, leading in a straight line to the Grand Duke’s secretariat.
The first of these rooms (1773) is called the Hercules room because of the fresco decoration by Giuseppe Maria Terreni depicting the myth of Hercules in the vault and bucolic scenes and the views of ruins on the walls. The next room is the Diana hall, also from 1773, with frescoes celebrating Diana and Apollo in the vault and hunting scenes set in scenic views, by Giuseppe Gricci and the inset panels attributed to Giuseppe Del Moro. The hall after that is the Hall of the Seasons, painted by Giuseppe Maria Terreni with allegories of the four seasons and perspective illusions. This room leads to the Grand Duke’s secretariat, frescoed by Antonio Fabbrini in 1777, concluding the celebratory journey of Peter Leopold and his enlightened government.
Also on the ground floor are the rooms Paoletti created before 1770 on the south side, overlooking the southern farm fields, and especially the hall of the Putti (cherubs) decorated by Tommaso Gherardini. Next in a straight line and prior to reaching the current dining hall are the four halls with decorations exalting the triumphs of the Roman Caesars.
It was actually as part of these renovations that Paoletti, guided by Francesco Milizia, moved Cosimo II’s ‘volticina’ fresco, an operation then repeated in the 19th century, from the small study located where today there is the small neoclassical bathroom later created by Giuseppe Cacialli. In 1773 the Grand Duke expressed the will to preserve the ‘volticina’ fresco by having it moved to a new structure located on the west side and overlooking the garden.
A few years later, in 1779 and almost at the same time as the Sala Bianca in Palazzo Pitti and the Sala della Niobe in the Uffizi, Paoletti built the ballroom used for parties, an environment now considered indispensable in a palace. etti endowed the ‘piano nobile’ with a large, luminous and purely neoclassical white salon with large windows looking out over the Arcetri hills and decorated in stucco by the brothers Grato and Giocondo Albertolli. The salon, placed to be the point of convergence of a series of stucco-decorated private rooms and spaces facing the outer side of the building, is preceded by a vestibule lit by a skylight and decorated in stucco with Empire mirrors and neoclassical busts.
Another-stucco-decorated room is the Gallery, built in 1775 in place of the ancient terrace that was located in the west wing overlooking the garden.
To this day, the salon is used for balls, concerts and other events and houses a 19th century grand piano. To its left are four rooms decorated with 18th century Chinese wallpaper, hand painted in the exotic taste for ‘Chinoiseries’ that was all the rage in the European courts of the time.
Also communicating with the ballroom is the Lilac parlour, now used for storage.
Exteriorly, instead, Paoletti transformed the two pre-existing walled gardens, that were placed symmetrically with respect to the central cloister, with two large courtyards in the Neoclassical style, surrounded by numerous halls.
The Napoleonic era
In 1807, when Napoleon assigned the Kingdom of Etruria to his sister Elise, wife to Felice Baciocchi of Lucca, Giuseppe Cacialli was commissioned with the construction of the chapel that is accessed both from inside the villa and from an external loggia and that was completed in 1820.
At Baciocchi’s behest, Cacialli, one of Paoletti’s pupils, also elevated the upper floor of the portico, replacing the uncovered loggia with a loggia with Ionic arches and columns, enclosed by stained glass windows and surmounted by a pediment with a central clock and two winged victories. This variation allowed the main floor to become enriched with a light-flooded room known as the ‘peristyle’.
With the Restoration, in 1814, Cacialli resumed work on the villa, using the wings of the left façade for a chapel and using the right wing as a guardhouse. The architect also renovated the Empire-style rooms inside. Four years later, in 1818, Cacialli worked on the Green Room, named after the colour of the upholstery of the sofas inside.
Between 1821 and 1823 Ferdinand III commissioned Cacialli with other makeovers, such as the Achilles hall and the neoclassical bathroom. The latter, contemporary with the one built by Cacialli for Palazzo Pitti, is enriched with stuccoes depicting classical marine allegories and is furnished with a deep marble bathtub that already had hot and cold water.
The last and most recent restoration
The last radical renovation project that involved both the villa’s architectural aspect and its historical/artistic heritage, dates back to the years 1972-1975 when the Superintendency of Florence, mostly under the direction of Nello Bemporad, reconciled the ancient structures with the needs of a modern school and opened some of the restored rooms to the public.