Palazzo Pitti – ancient fortress palace on the Arpo River in Florence
Florence is an Italian city on the Arpo River, formerly the center of the Republic of Florence and the capital of the Medici dukes. Piazza Pitti in Florence is graced by the largest and most magnificent palace in the city, the Palazzo Pitti.
The origins of the Palazzo
In the 15th century in Florence, power belonged to the Medici family. Duke Cosimo de Medici, a major banker, did not flaunt his grandeur. The palace, in which the ruler lived, was captivating from the inside with luxury and wealth, although outwardly it looked modest.
A devoted friend of the family, the Florentine banker Luca Pitti, secretly envied his friend and dreamed of building a palace that would surpass every Medici house in beauty and grandeur.
Construction of the palace, a project commissioned to Luca Franceschi, began in 1458. Anyone, even criminals, was welcome on the construction site, which was staggering in size. The work boiled on day and night, without holidays and weekends.
The palace and the time
In 1472 Luca Pitti died without seeing the completion of the building. The banker’s family was living in an unfinished palace and by then impoverished. In 1549 the palace was bought by the Grand Duke of Tuscany Cosimo I and gave it to his wife Eleonora Toledo.
The Duchess, who dreamed of a spacious and bright house, ordered to expand the new property, so that the area of the palace has increased by 2 times. In 1565, the architect Giorgio Vasari built a corridor that connected Palazzo Vecchio, where government meetings were held, to Palazzo Pitti, where the Medici family moved in.
The land behind the palazzo was bought and a park laid out, which was arranged by famous architects of the time.
In 1737, when the Pitti family finally broke up, the palace passed into the ownership of the Duke of Lorraine. Subsequently, from 1865 to 1871, King Victor Emmanuel II of Italy stayed at Pitti Palace. In 1919 his grandson nationalized the building and donated it to Italy.
The palazzo and surrounding gardens were divided into several museums and art galleries. 140 rooms were opened for public viewing. Today, Palazzo Pitti is the largest museum and historical and architectural complex in Italy.
Architectural features of Palazzo Pitti
Palazzo Pitti is a gloomy, three-story, fortress-like building. The palace is finished on the outside with rough rusticated stone, which gives the palazzo a powerful yet austere appearance. The façades, lined with quadrangular, adjoining stones with an unhewn front, only appeared at the time on the dukes’ side.
Luca Pitti, breaking an unwritten law, sought to equate himself with the ruling elite. The banker ordered the windows of his palazzo (palace) to be as large as the doors of the Medici palace, and the inner courtyard to be as large as the territory of the duke’s palazzo
The central part of the building is cube-shaped and is adjoined by two-story additions. Each tier is fenced by balustrades along its length. A huge entrance portal leads to the inner courtyard.
The building, strictly divided into three floors, was constructed without external ornaments. Only the tiers of the lower floor are decorated with lion’s stone heads with crowns. Each upper floor of the building is more than 10 meters taller than the previous one, so that the palace seems to go upward.
Later, the palazzo’s side entrance doors were replaced by floor windows and the courtyard was decorated with semicircular arches, pilasters and columns.
Next to the palace is a monumental green area of 45,000 square meters. Straight alleys covered with greenery lead to secret grottoes, and the trees are in the company of statues and fountains. The centerpiece of the park is the horseshoe-shaped amphitheater, where festivals were held in the summer.
The Pitti museum complex combines the largest galleries.
It houses a collection of silver and goldware, ivory, precious and semi-precious stones, and displays the wealth of the ducal court. Ornaments and household items, Persian vases and vases from the 14th century from Byzantium and Venice are evidence of the luxury of the ducal house.
The highlight of the museum’s collection is a miniature replica of the Piazza della Signoria, decorated with gold and silver.
Halls of the gallery are devoted to Roman mythology. Antique statues of the gods Mars, Apollo and Venus are a worthy background to the gallery’s opulent interior. The interior is decorated with paintings by famous artists: Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck and Caravaggio. There is the biggest collection of Raphael paintings – 11 canvases.
The museum holds 6,000 costumes and closet items, luxurious outfits and exquisite ladies’ toilets from the 15th to 18th centuries. Clothes and accessories, shoes and jewelry, lingerie and bridal attire are on display in the museum.
Here you can see everyday and ceremonial dresses of duchesses made of different materials, openwork umbrellas and sun hats. The museum’s treasure is the funeral costumes of the Medici family.
Over the years, the collection has included costumes of theater and film, closet items of famous personalities and works by Italian clothing designers. Dresses made for Italian pop stars are decorated with embroidery, beads and lace.
On display here are the vehicles of Italian monarchs and nobles. Of interest are the carved and molded carriage decorations and the collection of antique whips. Vehicles of Italian rulers of different times complete the collection.
The Porcelain Museum keeps the famous dining sets that belonged to the Medici dynasty. Here you can find porcelain from Sèvres and Meissen, antique ceramic collections and porcelain statuettes.
Gallery of modern art
The gallery, located on the second floor, is famous for its collection of paintings and sculptures from the late 18th century to the First World War. The elegant halls, home to the great dukes, are adorned with a collection of works by artists of the Macchiaoli group from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Florentine artists paint in an unusual manner with colored stains. Their landscapes are particularly famous.
Palazzo Pitti helps to understand the peculiarities of culture and opens the door to the daily and public life of several generations of the great Dukes of Tuscany.
Palazzo Pitti in Florence
If you are going to Florence, home of the Renaissance and the greatest masters of the Renaissance: Da Vinci, Michelangelo, Machiavelli and Dante, you must stay in Florence for at least a week: in less time you will not be able to get around all the sites: palaces and temples, museums and squares… Each new turn in the ancient streets will reveal more and more wonders, like Palazzo Pitti. Palazzo Pitti in Florence is the largest palazzo in the city and one of the largest and most majestic in Italy, dating back 560 years, and today it is a treasure trove of museum displays that will interest every curious tourist.
What is a palazzo?
Many people who do not know the Italian language, or at least basic cultural and art history terminology, somehow make the assumption that it is a square. But no: a palazzo is a palace. Florence could publish art history dictionaries with terms from the fields of painting, sculpture and architecture, because many of the “cultural” words used around the world today, and many of the phenomena denoted by these words, were born in this Italian city.
What characterizes a palazzo:
- It is an Italian palazzo from the 15th to 18th centuries.
- such palaces were mostly built by rich aristocrats: merchants, bankers and politicians, as well as by members of famous dynasties
- The classic palazzo had three floors
- the ground floor was used for services, storage and servants’ quarters and sometimes as a place for animals and vehicles.
- the middle floor contained the guest rooms, kitchen and dining rooms, libraries and other public spaces.
- on the upper floor there were usually a master’s bedroom
Now knowingly we return directly to Pitti.
The history of the building
The first stone of the new palace was laid in 1458; the construction lasted six years, not long for those times. But even this was enough to make the history of the palazzo was shrouded in a maze of legends and speculation. Unfortunately, today historians can no longer say for sure where is the truth and where is fiction?
Luca Pitti, Florence’s richest banker, who rivaled Cosimo de Medici himself in power and wealth, was the latter’s friend and rival at the same time. It is known that Pitti even conspired against Medici – not to overthrow him or kill him, but to make him listen to his opinion in political matters.
It was under Pitti’s influence that the democratic system of power was temporarily restored in Florence in the mid-15th century, and elections were again organized by lot rather than by kinship and inheritance. At the same time, in the last years of his life, the Medici lavished generous gifts on Pitti.
The construction of the new palace was a matter of honour for Pitti: it is said that he wanted to “outdo” his friend’s palaces in size and grandeur. It certainly succeeded in terms of size: even five and a half centuries later, Palazzo Pitti is the largest in the city and one of the largest in the country. With grandeur, it’s a misfit: although the building looks majestic and monumental, it has always been and still is accused of being drab and unwieldy, and that it has failed to “overtake” the Medici. For taste and color, as they say…
Legend has it that Pitti ordered the windows of his new palazzo to be bigger than the gates of the Medici palaces, and that during the six years of construction, this was where fugitive criminals hid: Pitti and his men covered up crooks, thieves and even murderers in exchange for their work on the site, and the construction was supposedly going on day and night, without any breaks or weekends. Whether all this is true or not, it is impossible to say now.
In 1464 the construction was forced to stop. Most of the palace by then was ready, but still needed some refinement, decoration of the facade and interior decoration. But Pitti could no longer invest in his life’s work: his friend and patron Cosimo de Medici died, Girolamo Savonarola, known in history as a ruthless dictator, also zealously denounced wealth and luxury, came to power, and the former banker began serious financial problems. He could not cope with them, and in 1472, noticeably losing his fortune, he died, leaving the unfinished palace to his descendants.
In 1549 the finally bankrupt Bonaccosro Pitti – it is not known whether he was a son, grandson or other relative of Luca – was forced to sell the palace. Eleonora of Toledo, the wife of Cosimo de’ Medici, became its new owner, and it was under their patronage that the building was completed and enlarged.
Who was the architect of the original palazzo is not known. There are suggestions that it was Brunelleschi and his apprentice Franceschi, but modern historians agree only with the second name: Brunelleschi himself died a few years before the laying of the first stone of the future palace. At the time of Cosimo and Eleonora, the construction was supervised by Giorgio Vasari and Bartolomeo Ammannati themselves. The most remarkable fact is that a huge corridor was built between Palazzo Pitti and Palazzo Vecchio, the previous residence of the Medici, which made it possible to move between the palaces without having to go outside.
Under Cosimo and Eleonora’s son, Ferdinand the First Medici, all the major riches and a huge collection of jewelry of the famous dynasty were stored here. Still later the building belonged to the Lorraine and Savoy families. At the beginning of the 20th century, the palace was nationalized, that is, transferred to the state, and several museums and art galleries were opened there. Today, Palazzo Pitti is one of the most visited tourist sites in Florence, there are various guided tours daily.
Stylistically, Palazzo Pitti belongs to the Quattrocento (a term, incidentally, also born in Florence): it combines the imagery of the Middle Ages, the norms of Christian culture and the influences of the Proto-Renaissance. The powerful and majestic building of the palazzo seems to press from above, forcing us to lower our gaze obediently. This is exactly what Luca Pitti wanted: the façade is lined with rustic – roughly hewn stone – which hints at the fact that he wanted the palace to make a formidable and rigid impression.
There are three floors in the building, and each upper floor is smaller than the previous one, so the palace seems to go upwards, like an Egyptian pyramid. This clear division is also visible thanks to the semicircular arches and pilasters, which were made already at the time of Eleanor of Toledo. However, it is believed that Vasari and Ammannati followed the original design and plans made during Pitti’s lifetime.
The Palatine Gallery – or Palatine Gallery – by itself, even without the masterpieces of painting on display there, is very beautiful and distinctive. Some of the rooms, painted by the Italian Pietro da Cortona, are a common mythological pattern and are even named after ancient Roman and ancient Greek gods: Venus – goddess of beauty and fertility, – Apollo – god of light and patron of arts, – Mars – god of war and agriculture, – Jupiter – supreme god, – and Saturn – god of agriculture and time.
As for the paintings of the gallery, they began to be collected as early as the Medici, then the work was continued by the Lorrains. Here in the Pitti Palace is the largest collection of masterpieces of Raphael in the world: as many as eleven paintings! There are also works by such famous masters as Titian, Rubens, Van Dyck, and Caravaggio.
Gallery of modern art
In addition to Renaissance masterpieces, Palazzo Pitti is also famous for its contemporary art gallery, featuring paintings by 19th-century painters. Most of them painted in the technique of macchiallo (another Florentine word!), a particular style characterized by a free manner and pronounced “spots”. It may well be that it was from macchiallo that Impressionism grew.
The treasures of the great dukes
The second name is the Museum of Silver. The museum is quite impressive: almost thirty halls, and one more luxurious and richer than another. This collection was also assembled by the Medici family: there are masterfully cast, carved, elegant silverware, and jewelry of the legendary dynasty, and coral and pearl souvenirs, and miniature figurines carved from cherry pits and ivory, and Byzantine vases, and amphorae from Eastern countries, and masterpieces of Venetian jewelry making, and precious and semi-precious stones, and delightful transparent amber… Similar luxurious and rich collections can be found only in the halls of the Louvre and the Hermitage.
Fashion and Costume Museum
This collection is relatively young – the museum opened only in 1983. However, today it already has more than 6 thousand exhibits, and every self-respecting publication has long ago included it in the list of the best fashion and costume museums in the world.
Of course, most of the costumes in the collection are Italian: masterpieces by Mariano Fortuni, Maria Galenga, Elsa Schiaparelli. All these women are famous designers and fashion designers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was their efforts that helped to develop the modern Italian fashion. There are the costumes of the aristocratic society of the 18th-20th centuries, theatrical costumes, some jewelry and the clothes of the famous Italian actresses, for example those of Eleonora Duse. There are also famous works from the collections of the great Coco Chanel.
In addition, in the fashion museum there are also vehicles: carriages, wagons, the first cars. You can see complete compositions, when next to male and female mannequins in the costumes of certain years there is a vehicle of the same time.
Since fabric deteriorates very quickly in the light, all the exhibits are under glass, and the room itself is semi-dark and cool. In addition, so that the costumes do not stay on the mannequins for too long, every two years the entire exposition changes completely. Temporary exhibitions change even more often. Photography is allowed, but only without flash. Also, when going to the museum of fashion and costume, be sure to dress warmly.
Royal and Imperial apartments
The right wing of the palazzo houses the apartments of the Savoy dynasty that ruled in the 19th century. At that time Florence was the capital of Italy, and King Vittorio Emanuele II lived here for a time with his family as a private residence. It was then that luxurious vintage furniture was installed in the chambers and various objects of art – paintings, sculptures and reliefs – from the 16th-19th centuries were brought in.
Opening times and ticket prices
There are always a lot of tourists at Palazzo Pitti, but one consolation is that the square and the palace itself are so huge that there is hardly any jostling.
Working hours are as follows:
- Mon-Fri day off.
- Tue – Wed 08.15.-18.50 p.m.
Cashiers close an hour and a half earlier. Also the exhibitions may not be open on major holidays. A general ticket to see all the sights at Palazzo Pitti and the adjoining famous luxurious Boboli Gardens costs 38 euros. However, there are variations for 16, 18 euros, etc. that allow you to see only part of the grounds in various combinations. In addition, the ticket can be booked on the official website of the palazzo (the cost of booking is another 3 euros), then you can go to a special queue with an electronic voucher or printout.
Excursions – individual, family and group – are purchased with separate additional tickets.
Where to go and how to get there
The exact address of the palazzo is Piazza Pitti, Florence. Buses No11 and No36 go past it, and you can also get to the palace by cab. If you are walking around the city, the square and the palazzo are sure to be on your itinerary, because they are in the historic center of Florence and you can’t miss such splendor.