Architecture Around the World
Pitti Palace (Palazzo Pitti)
Pitti Square, Florence, Italy
|1450s, with later substantial changes|
|Filippo Brunelleschi (fee LEEP oh brewn ul ESS kee|
Wing added in the 18th c.
Barrel vault ceiling
Banker Luca Pitti commissioned this grand palazzo now home to several museums. In the 1450s intent on outdoing his arch rivals, the Medici, Pitti conjured up a palace worthy of kings.
Ironically Medici Grand Duke Cosimo I and his wife, Eleanor of Toledo, purchased the place in 1549 when Pitti heirs went belly up because of construction costs.
The Medici substantially enlarged the palazzo, and from then on It was the official home of Florence's rulers (and the site of some lavish entertainment including renowned banquets by Grand Duke Ferdinando I who flooded the courtyard with water and filled it with a parade of sailing ships).
Today along with the Uffizi it houses many treasures of the Medici family bequeathed by the last of the Medici clan the childless Anna Maria Luisa, who died in 7743. Her final wish that the family's priceless collection "remain forever in Florence where the treasures should always be available for the pleasure and benefit of the people of the whole world."
The palace is an enormous horizontal building (length 205 m, maximum height 36 m) built of rusticated ashlar on the ground floor with smooth upper stories.
The Palace has three floors: on the ground floor are alternate doors and windows, while on the two upper floors we see a uniform set of windows.
Originally, the Palace (c. 1460) built by Luca Fancelli following a plan by Brunelleschi, was much smaller and also in better proportion than the present building.
The original building was composed of two upper floors with seven windows and a loggia. (Pictures of this construction can be seen in the Church of St. Sprito and in the Museum of Florence of the Past.)
When the Pitti family fell on bad times, with Bonaccorso, the palace was handed over to Eleanor of Toledo (1549), the first wife of Cosimo I. Work was continued by Ammannati (1558-70) who added the inner wings surrounding the magnificent courtyard and replaced the side doors by two imposing windows.
In the next century, G. and A. Parigi enlarged still more the ground and first floors, until, in the 18th century, the Lorena family caused the two projecting outer wings (the so-called "rondo") to be added.
After being the residence of the Medici and the Lorena families, the palace passed into the hand of the Savoia family as a royal residence (1865-71).
The secular nature of the Renaissance - the triumph of Humanism even in the Catholic South - finds a symbol in the villa and the palace, not least the palaces of Florence, The palaces were built in the middle years of the fifteenth century for such princely and mercantile families as the Strozzi, as well as Medici (Medici-Riccardi), the Pitti, and the Pandolfini. They vary in detail but conform to type:
- Unlike the villas which were set among the fountains and cypresses of the surrounding hills, these palaces arc fundamentally urban
- Each fills a city block
- Each is built right up to the street frontage, presenting a cliff of masonry to the outer world
- Each has an internal courtyard of shaded and colonnaded charm
- Each relegates to the ground floor such subordinate things as offices, stables, kitchens and guard rooms
- The bottom floor was constructed of rusticated stone to suggest a firm foundation and impenetrable defenses. Higher floors were formed from smooth ashlar blocks, with the joints hardly perceptible, to represent the refinement of the living area. The overall effect emphasizes that the building appears progressively lighter as the eye moves upward.
- Ground floor rooms often have quite small windows to the street, covered with heavy grilles. The grilles themselves, as in the case of the Palazzo Pitti, were often fine works of art, their metallic quality being a foil to the rusticated stonework
- Each palace has great suites of state apartments on the first floor - the piano nobile (second story in US) - with coved and painted ceilings. Externally this gives a splendid area of blank wall above each range of windows
- Each palace has a crowning cornice; that of the Palazzo Strozzi overhangs the street by more than seven feet, casting a mighty shadow
- The façades, while having scale and dignity, were austere
- Often the greatest enrichment was the craggy character of the rusticated masonry or, as in the Alberti's Palazzo Rucellai, very flat pilasters
What is more important than individual façades is the fact that here had been created a new urban type, which was to be found throughout the centuries in the Georgian square, the Pall Mall clubs, the Wall Street bank. The wealthy businessman, now neither a churchman nor a feudal lord, had found his architectural symbol. Moreover, the modern street, the "corridor" of stone frontages, had, for better or worse, been invented.