Review: Museo di Palazzo Davanzati

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Nowadays in Italian cities, such as Florence, it has become rather common to spot green parakeets flocking from one tree to another from springtime to autumn. Yet, this certainly was not the case during the Middle Age and the Early Renaissance, especially indoors. Imagine then our surprise, and that of our predecessors, when entering the Sala dei Pappagalli, at the first floor of Palazzo Davanzati, we were welcomed by hundreds of them!

To celebrate the end of the year, and to explore this city a bit more, the Visual and Material History Working Group organized a visit to the Museo di Palazzo Davanzati, in the city centre of Florence. There we were able to explore this fascinating palace from the late 14th century which, although it has undergone several changes over the centuries, still conveys a magical and charming atmosphere.

I was, in particular, struck with the beauty of the four painted rooms, where illusionary curtains cover the walls with several patterns and even tales. This is, for instance, the case of the bedroom on the second floor, where elaborate wall paintings tell the story of the Châtelaine de Vergy, a romance of courtly love from France that was particularly popular during the 13th century. This abundance of wall paintings becomes then even more impressive if we think that once most of the palaces belonging to the wealthy Florentine families must have looked pretty similar to this.

Alongside the wonderful painted rooms, the museum hosts several collections: some of the floors host thematic collections. Whereas on the first floor pieces of furnitures from several centuries are exhibited, the third floor, for instance, is dedicated to lace and lacemaking. The collection of christening dresses for kids there was particularly interesting and almost moving. Other rooms of the building instead exhibit all sorts of kitchenware, hence showing the ancient set-ups and the material culture typical of the past, recreating a convincing sample of a Florentine kitchen from the early modern period.

What is curious about the walls of these rooms then, is the abundant presence of graffiti on them. The palace was in fact rented to the cadastre office for some years while the Davanzati family was facing some hardships. Back then, people were often using white walls as a sketchbook, hence taking notes there. Whereas in some cases these notes do just refer to affairs and business, in some cases they also refer to the larger history of Florence. For instance one of the graffiti on the second floor reads “1478, a dì 26 aprile fu morto Giuliano de Medici Santa Maria del Fiore,” referring to the infamous Pazzi conspiracy which led to the murder of Giuliano de’ Medici. Fortunately, although the Palace was restored extensively at the beginning of the 20th century, these graffiti have not been removed.

So far, the museum initiative organized by the Visual and Material History Working Group has led us to discover some hidden gems in Florence. Such an initiative will of course continue during the second semester, which has just begun, as we hope to connect more and more with the city.