One doesn’t have to be particularly interested in footwear to visit Florence’s Palazzo Spini Ferroni where that supreme firm of shoe designer-makers has had its headquarters ever since Ferragamo bought this imposing mediaeval palazzo (which dates back to 1290 and is near ponte della Trinità) in the 1930’s.
The Ferragamo museum always has an interesting exhibition to visit. I’ve already described Salvatore Ferragamo’s career and a previous exhibition in my post at https://longoio2.wordpress.com/2015/04/23/a-load-of-cobblers/
The current one, inaugurated in 2015, celebrates the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of Florence as temporary capital of Italy until Rome was finally liberated in 1870. Appropriately, it describes the vicissitudes of the palace from the mid-nineteenth century when it ceased to be in private ownership, originally under the Spini family who’d been bankers to Pope Boniface VIII. The Ferroni family eased the palace’s mediaeval severity somewhat by commissioning baroque frescoes by Poccetti. These were on display.
The projecting of real flying doves on this one I thought rather effective:
The palazzo then became a luxury hotel in the nineteenth century catering to such illustrious guests as Franz Liszt. (I wouldn’t have minded to have the room next door to his while he practised!)
Chancellor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire Metternich also patronised the hotel.
The palace next became a Florentine ‘club dei forestieri’ where foreigners to that city could enjoy a circulating library, consult reference books and read the latest foreign newspapers and magazines. Evidently one could smoke in libraries then!
For a time it housed the Vieusseux scientific and literary collection. It also was a residence of Girolamo Segato who was an expert in petrifying corpses. (I would have already been petrified to have to meet such a guy! Incidentally, if you want to see some of his successes in petrifying corpses there are some on show at the anatomy section of Florence University at Viale Giovan Battista Morgagni 85. A cool glass of Campari soda is recommended before you enter that collection).
One of the artists who stayed at the palazzo was Henry Holiday (1839-1927) who may not mean much to you until you see this famous painting, dating from 1883 and definitely pre-Raphaelite in influence.
It’s, of course, the legendary encounter of Dante with his supreme muse, Beatrice. This fateful meeting occurred just round the corner from the palace. If you fancy meeting your muse it may be worth a try waiting there.( I don’t have to – I’m married to mine and Florentine blood courses through her veins).
Holiday evidently did a lot of preparation for his historical reconstruction, including a crane in the right background rebuilding the old Ponte Vecchio.
When Florence became the capital of Italy the palazzo was used as a major government and administration centre.
The palazzo entered a new lease of life when Salvatore Ferragamo bought it and used it both as shoe atelier and as salesroom. Among famous customers were the crème de la crème of film stars like Cary Grant, Audrey Hepburn etc. (as they still are!)
There was also an important art gallery exhibiting contemporary painters. Some of these have been loaned back for the Ferragamo exhibition. They include such artists as De Chirico and Rosai who painted the country lanes surrounding the city so exquisitely.
The exhibition tells the Spini Ferroni palace’s complex history with great style. The palace indeed, reflects a large chunk of Florentine history from the mediaeval city of Dante, through the Medici’s and thence into the era of tourism and foreign artists. It’s a great place to get a potted history of the prodigious city of the Lily.
I feel it is not just a stroke of luck but a very inspired one than the palazzo is now home to one of Florence’s great design names – Ferragamo. Don’t miss visiting it if you are in Florence next time and put yourself in my shoes.
PS All photos by courtesy of Alexandra Pettitt