The Pitti Palace Collections

By Alexandra Bonfante-Warren

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Palazzo Pitti is a long aristocratic dwelling that seems to have landed, along with the somewhat awkward piazza in front of it, amid a warren of small buildings, boutiques, cafes, and repair shops. The complex lies across the Arno River from the busy hive of Florence's city center, and its name refers to the wealthy banker, Luca Pitti, who built the original block. Its construction was perceived as a presumptuous and arrogant gesture that managed to offend virtually every Florentine,of every political and social position. When Cosimo I de' Medici and Eleanora of Toledo, the duke and duchess of Tuscany, renovated the abandoned palazzo to house their royal apartments, it became known, not surprisingly, as the ducal palace. Today, the Pitti Palace is known as one of the finest museums in Italy, if not the world, housing works of art that stretch from early masters like Giotto and Duccio to 20th-century Italian artists.

The Palatine Gallery, comprising paintings and sculptures in the palazzo's majestic rooms, is not a museum in the conventional sense. These rooms belong to a very specific practice that took shape during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, that is, the nobility's custom of hanging many works of art together in private residential spaces. Of the other collections on display in the Pitti Palace complex, the Silverworks and Porcelain museums are housed in small, sometimes beautifully frescoed rooms that resemble the guardarobe, or storerooms, where princely families kept their fine plate. Behind the palace, the Boboli Gardens are one of the great horticultural and architectural creations of Europe. Present-day visitors can walk the aristocratic allees between high walls of evergreen holm oak, where heavy brocades once dragged, and come upon unexpected sculptural delights such as a mounted Perseus emerging from—and reflected in—still waters. The Costume and Carriage museums are more museologically traditional containers of objects, though the objects contained are revelatory and splendid.

The Pitti Palace has a selection of 300 of the Pitti's most memorable and magnificent works of art, all beautifully presented in full-color illustrations and accompanied by Alexandra Bonfante-Warren's lively text of the Pitti's architectural and personal history. The lives of the Medici family and their unparalleled support of the arts form the basis of this story which weaves a web of intrigue, romance, power, birth right, and artistic vision and brings the Pitti's massive edifice and centuries of history into manageable portions.

9 5/8 x 13 in., 320 pages
ISBN: 0-88363-513-5
$75.00 U.S.

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