Seven Florentine loves passed into history
Streets, palaces, gardens, villas and hills that speak of great stories of love
Dante and Beatrice and their fateful encounter in the little church of Santa Margherita de’ Cerchi are only one legendary love story of many. In Florence everything is about great love stories, in all their moods of joy and sadness, ideal and scandal, to become an open window onto its history.
Every season, the gift of love of the Boboli Gardens is revived. Created at the behest of Cosimo I de’ Medici for his Eleanor ofToledo, commissioned from Buontalenti, it was to be “equal to the beauty and grandeur” of his beloved spouse. So from Palazzo Pitti every season she would see his love bloom again and again! But within the walls of this palace, a tormented and passionate love swept Elisa Baciocchi, Napoleon’s sister and Grand Duchess of Tuscany and Niccolò Paganini, handsome and damned who, with his devilish violin, would have the ladies of the court swooning. Because of Elisa’s exasperated jealousy this troubled relationship ended, a fact perhaps confirmed by some of the great violinist’s Caprices.
The Palazzo at Via Maggio 26 with the decorated facade, instead is the site of the scandalous story of Francesco I de' Medici, unfaithful husband of Joan of Austria, and the Venetian Bianca Cappello, which shook the consciences of the Florence of that time. Not even the sudden death (poison?) of the two lovers managed to spread a veil of silence over the sinful relationship.
Vittorio Alfieri and Luisa d’Albany met in Piazza Santa Croce, but their love nest, one of the century’s most scandalous, was the Palazzo Gianfigliazzi, on the Arno River. Here they lived their passion openly, ignoring criticism and gossip. Their salon became a meeting place for intellectuals and a hub of culture. Alfieri always considered her his muse and the “better half of myself”. It was Luisa who, at his death, commissioned Canova to design his funeral monument, which is located in Santa Croce. But it was villas hidden in green hills that saw the birth, life and death of the great loves.
The Medicean Villa Petraia in Florence, in the years when it was Capital, is where Vittorio Emanuele II, King of Italy, welcomed the Bella Rosina. Rosa Vercellana, attractive daughter of his gamekeeper, replaced his fragile wife, Maria Adelaide of Habsburg-Lorraine, both in his heart and in his bed. The Bella Rosina, having become the Countess of Mirafiori, an excellent cook, consoled his nostalgia for Piedmontese cuisine by preparing a hearty ‘bagna cauda’.
Again dating back to Florence as Capital is the splendid Villa Cora, formerly Villa Oppenheim. Built in 1860 to accommodate in the most romantic way possible the young wife Eugenia Finzi, Gustavo Oppenheim lavished it with luxury, wealth and elegance. But the beauty of the house, the quiet of the location, did not serve to bring to life their love. Consumed by jealousy, Gustavo went so far as to set fire to the villa. Pity! This meeting place for Florentine high society, that it had become, was rocked by scandal.
But the villa, far away from street noise, hidden in the countryside, that hosted the most transgressive love stories of the century, is the Capponcina at Settignano. Here Gabriele D’Annunzio, the poet, settled and lived through inimitable years. There he loved, and also emptied the wallets of countless beautiful women, such as Eleonora Duse. He lived like a Prince in the villa furnished in Renaissance style, served by waiters, cooks, and butlers, riding thoroughbreds and living in unbridled luxury. In 1911, this all led to his bankruptcy and everything he owned went up for auction. During these years of insane living and loving he wrote some masterpieces of Italian and European literature.
In 1909, Frank Lloyd Wright, father of modern architecture with his lover Mamah Borthwich Cheney, arrived in Florence. Accused of abandoning his wife and six children, and due to their scandalous relationship, Wright and Cheney left a puritan America. Here, in ancient Fiesole, he found a small cream-colored villa. The two fugitives enjoyed the countryside on the edge of one of the most famous art cities in the world. In their search for peace and quiet, they chose it as their residence. So on the Old Continent the cream colored house, Villino Belvedere, became the scene of their love. This secluded home gave them a new season but also intellectual and creative freedom. Right here, taking his cue from Villino Belvedere, Wright designed his ideal home, Taliesin, the residence that he built for their love on returning to the US.