Italian culture and history: The Medici Villas in Tuscany
- WTI Magazine #98 Dec 17, 2017
Set in gorgeous and magnificent Tusncany, and immersed in the splendid countryside just outside favorite art cities like Florence and Lucca are the Medici Villas, built during the Florentine Renaissance and inserted onto the UNESCO World Heritage List in June, 2013.
More precisely, 12 villas total, along with two gardens, make up the UNESCO Site: the Boboli Gardens (Florence) and the Pratolino Gardens (Vaglia), the Florentine Villas of Careggi, La Petraia, Castello and Poggio Imperiale – the Belcanto Villa in Fiesole (also known as Villa Fiesole), the Poggio a Caiano Villa in Prato, the Villa in Cerreto Guidi, Villa La Magia (Quarrata, near Pistoia), Villa di Artimino (Carmignano, near Prato), Cafaggiolo a Barberino in Mugello, Villa del Trebbio (San Piero in Sieve) and Palazzo di Seravezza in Lucca.
The Medici Villas, as the UNESCO Committee writes, "bear testimony to the influence the Medici Family exerted over modern European culture through its patronage of the arts. Built between the 15th and 17th Centuries, they represent an innovative system of rural construction in harmony with nature and dedicated to leisure, the arts and knowledge."
These country residences are unprecedented for an epoch in which wealthy Florentines possessed either the classic rural farmsteads or ancient castles, each a symbol of power. These villas are are among the most important and lofty exemplars of Tuscan Renaissance and Baroque architecture. Their gardens and perfect integration with the local natural elements contributed to the emergence of a sensibility for landscape aesthetics, evidence of one of the defining traits of Renaissance humanism.
The Boboli Gardens are also an ideal Italian garden. Conceived for the Granducal Palazzo Pitti, tthey are also connected to the Belvedere Fort, and they occupy a surface area of 484,376 sq ft.
Outside the city, but still in the Province of Florence is the lush Parco della Villa Medicea di Pratolino; destroyed in 1822, it was later restructured and transformed into Villa Demidoff. The Park hosts significant artworks, including: "The Colossus of the Apennines" (Il Colosso dell'Appennino) by Giambologna.
These residences represent what was an authentic microcosm of the world of court life, and they were equally “pleasure palaces” and diplomatic residences.
Some of them served as the Medicis’ hunting lodges as well, particularly Trebbio and Cafaggiolo – also the first villas constructed, and thus featuring plenty fo 13th-Century fortification architecture. (Cafaggiolo also sprung up as a ceramics hub, with one of the most famous Renaissance ceramics workshops.)
Then there were the summer residences, such as Villa di Artimino, also referred to as the “villa of fireplaces and chimneystacks,” given its numerous, what else, fireplaces and chimneystacks. Another of the abodes purposed for R&R was Villa di Fiesole, where Lorenzo de' Medici loved to gather with his humanist friends, e.g. Poliziano and Pico della Mirandola.
Villa La Màgia was important, rather, for its strategic location, where an historic encounter between Duke Alessandro de' Medici and Emperor Charles V took place in 1536. Not to be left out is one of the oldest residences, Villa Careggi, dedicated not only to rest and relaxation, but also to the economy of agricultural activities.
Today these residences serve varying functions. Some, like Villa La Petraia, one of the most beautiful – above all for its position overlooking the City of Florence – are part of the Florentine museum network. The Villa di Cerreto Guidi, a hunting lodge and hunting grounds, hosts the Historic Hunting and Territorial Museum. Similarly, Villa Poggio a Caiano, commissioned to Giuliano da Sangallo by Lorenzo the Magnificent, is a museum.
Others are insitutional seats, such as Villa Castello, once decorated with Botticelli's La Primavera e La nascita di Venere ("Spring and the Birth of Venus"), and today official location of the Accademia della Crusca; the Villa of Poggio Imperiale - renovated in the Neoclassical style and hosting a public school -and Palazzo di Seravezza, Museum of the Peasant Work and Traditions of Historic Versilia.