Palazzo Strozzi: an incredible, historic building now repurposed as a superb exhibition space

The Palazzo Strozzi is a superb example of Renaissance civil noble residential architecture in the historic center of Florence.  And it has been repurposed to delightful service of the modern world.



Today the palace is used for temporary international expositions, like the one I viewed yesterday, devoted to Bill Viola.




Before looking at the exhibition, let’s discuss the incredible building:

Filippo Strozzi the Elder (1428 – 1491), the banker and statesman, commissioned the structure after his return to Florence in November of 1466.


As a major Medici rival, Strozzi wanted to build the most magnificent home in the city to assert his family’s prominence.  The palace may as well have been intended as a political statement of his own status.  Based on the wishes of Strozzi himself, the palazzo would be built to look like a small fortress in the heart of the city.

The palace was begun in 1489 and designed by Benedetto da Maiano.


The Strozzi palace was clearly inspired by the Palazzo Medici, with its rusticated stone exterior, but it is much larger and has more harmonious proportions than its predecessor.  Whereas the Palazzo Medici was sited on a corner lot and thus has only two main sides, the Stozzi is surrounded on all four sides by streets. The Strozzi palace faces the historical  and fashionable Via de’ Tornabuoni, as well as the Piazza Strozzi and on Via Strozzi. The building thus required three imposing entranceways, each flanked by rectangular windows. The Strozzi family’s coat of arms is found in the upper floors.

The siting of the Strozzi in the center major streets provided the challenge of how to integrate a cross-axis in keeping with the Renaissance desire for strict internal symmetry.  As a result, the ground plan of Palazzo Strozzi is rigorously symmetrical on its two axes.

The Strozzi family acquired a great number of buildings in this area were acquired during the 70s and demolished them all to to provide enough space for his new home.

The original architect, Benedetto da Maiano, died in 1497; Simone del Pollaiolo (il Cronaca) took over and was responsible for the completion of the palace. Pollaiolo died in Florence in 1508, but is credited with the design and finish of the central courtyard or cortile, surrounded by an arcade inspired by Michelozzo.

The external facade is adnorned with splendid torch holders, flag holders and rings to tie horses made by Niccolò di Nofri, an iron-worker known as il Caparra.

Unfortunately, Filippo Strozzi died in 1491, long before the construction’s completion in 1538.  Strozzi’s children were the first to live in the palazzo, moving in around 1505.  Ironically, Duke Cosimo I de’ Medici confiscated the palazzo in the same year, not returning it to the Strozzi family until thirty years later.

The palazzo remained the seat of the Strozzi family. Although the family lived in Rome for centuries, the palazzo was returned to its original splendour in the mid-1800s with the Princess Antonietta, and then with Prince Piero, who, from 1886 to 1889, had the building renovated by architect Pietro Berti.  In 1937 the family sold the building to the Istituto Nazionale delle Assicurazioni, and many changes were made to the edifice.  It was later given to the city of Florence in 1999. It is now home to the Institute of Humanist Studies and to the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi.

Since July 2006, the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi has been able to create a rich and innovative calendar of events and exhibits, in these areas of the building: Piano Nobile, la Strozzina and Il Cortile.

The Gabinetto G.P. Viesseux and the Renaissance Studies Institute both have also occupied the building since 1940.  Here also is the seat of the Istituto Nazionale del Rinascimento and the noted Gabinetto Vieusseux, with a library and reading room.

Today the palace is used for temporary international expositions like the now-annual antique show, founded as the Biennale dell’Antiquariato in 1959, fashion shows and other cultural and artistic events.





Allora, on to Bill Viola and his video art.

In the exhibition “Electric Renaissance,” Viola seems to have taken certain Renaissance masterpieces and created video dialogues with them.  I would say he is tremendously fortunate to have been able to borrow the original Italian artworks and, even if you don’t love Viola’s work, you will be rewarded with a small, select group of historic masterworks.  For example:

Here’s his dialogue between his video of 3 contemporary women greeting each other, in relationship to Pontormo’s



IMG_3758  IMG_3757


Other installations stand on their own.  This screen is about 200 feet long by 15 feet high.








Summer reading.

I know, the calendar hasn’t officially cleared summer for take off.  But, as I write this in Florence on Saturday evening at 6:30 p.m., the temperature is 91 degrees F.  Summer has arrived, secondo me. If it gets much hotter than this, I may have to move way way up north to Scotland.

Keeping cool for me requires a lot of good reading material.  My latest enjoyment has been found in this great non-fiction tome, filled with art intrigue, a connection between Italy and the US, and historical context of the 1960s and 1970s.  A fun book to read, and not just for art historians, I promise!




The Boston Raphael: A Mysterious Painting, an Embattled Museum in an Era of Change & A Daughter’s Search for the Truth by Belinda Rathbone

Great summer reading.

Florence is one with Syria’s antiquities

A replica of the Palmyra Arch is currently on display in the Piazza della Signoria, bringing awareness to the senseless destruction of the original in Syria in 2015 by militants.  It is an austere and chilling juxtaposition, this lost arch and Florence, which is lavished with attention.



For more information, see the following sources:


It’s time to get back to some art!

I am in need of an art fix, fast, to get my mind off bonnie Prince George.

So, let’s visit the Museo Bardini in Florence!  Perche no?

I love this gorgeous museum housed in a former palace right behind my Florentine apartment in the Oltrarno.  It is fantastic place filled with fantastic art.

For starters, the walls in the galleries are a beautiful shade of midnight blue, done on Venetian plaster if I am not mistaken.  Gorgeous effect.

This Renaissance statue in painted wood takes my breath away.


Isn’t she lovely?

Now, let’s have a look at some other of the masterpieces in the collection.






A chair, to rest your weary Renaissance bones upon.




An artful display of fantastic Renaissance frames.  Who needs a painting when you’ve got frames like these?










Some Renaissance slippers for the lady.



And some for her gentleman?







Let’s leave the way we came in.


Ciao for now!

Van Dyck at the Frick



This beguiling self-portrait was created around 1620 by Anthony van Dyck (1599-1641), one of the most talented portrait painters of all time.  His sitters–poets, duchesses, painters and generals–were the elite of his age.  He painted them in an elegant manner, capturing, in his best works it is often said, the sitter’s inner life.

The Frick Collection in New York has a major new exhibition running currently and, thanks to the internet, we can all take a virtual tour of the show.

And may I say, hat’s off to the Frick for their outstanding use of technology to advance knowledge of the exhibition itself as well as the work of Van Dyck. The Frick’s website is among the most advanced I have seen of all art museums.  The following pictures and text are all modified from the museum’s website.

Born in Antwerp, Van Dyck rose to the top of his field, already assisting Flander’s most acclaimed artist, Peter Paul Rubens, in his late teens. Van Dyck spent the winter of 1620 in England, followed by a six year stay in Italy. By the age of 33, he was back in England, appointed principal painter to Charles I.


Self-portrait, c. 1613-15 Van Dyck’s first known self-portrait, painted when he was about fifteen.



Genoese Noblewoman, c. 1625-27

Van Dyck spent most of his Italian years in Genoa, a thriving Mediterranean port with an important Flemish community. In the wake of Peter Paul Rubens, who had preceded him there in the first decade of the century, he provided the city’s noble families with grand portraits, many of which still adorn their palaces. This portrait of a luxuriously dressed young woman standing against a loosely defined architectural background is a typical example of such images. Although she remains unidentified, the sash across her torso and the black edges of her cuffs seem to indicate she is a widow.



Lady Anne Carey, c. 1636

Anne Carey, later Countess of Clanbrassil, was the daughter of Henry Carey, second Earl of Monmouth, and Martha Cranfield. This portrait was likely painted on the occasion of her engagement to James Hamilton, heir of a Scottish family that had received large land grants in Northern Ireland. Lady Anne strides to the left in an Arcadian landscape, with the boulder behind her framing a woodland vista. Van Dyck reused this backdrop in other portraits, catering to the taste of English aristocrats who sought refuge from an increasingly unstable political situation in pastoral fantasies.



Mary, wife of Anthony van Dyck, c. 1640

Van Dyck’s wife, Mary Ruthven, came from an aristocratic, if impoverished, family of Scottish Catholics and served as a maid of honor to Queen Henrietta Maria. Van Dyck’s marriage to her in early 1640 marked his social ascent, but the painter died less than two years later, just eight days after the birth of his daughter Justina. Van Dyck’s portrait of his new bride is a sensuously painted autograph work. A cluster of oak leaves bound in Lady van Dyck’s hair may symbolize constancy, while her elegantly splayed fingers call attention to the proscribed Catholic faith that she shared with her husband, symbolized in the crucifix she displays.



Marie-Claire de Croy & son Phillpe-Eugene, 1634

Descended from one of the most ancient noble families in the Southern Netherlands, Marie-Claire de Croÿ was created Duchess of Havré in her own right by the king of Spain upon her marriage to a cousin in 1627. The child who appears alongside her is likely Philippe-Eugène, the future bishop of Valencia. The painting shows van Dyck’s customarily grandiose and richly colored court portraits.



Queen Henrietta Maria with Jeffrey Hudson, 1633

Charles I’s queen, Henrietta Maria, was the youngest child of Henri IV of France and Maria de’ Medici. In England, her lifelong devotion to the Catholic faith proved to be a major impediment to her popularity. Nevertheless, she served as the emotional mainstay of her husband’s life and provided an important cultural link among England, France, and the papal court at Rome. This is one of Van Dyck’s earliest portraits of the queen. He assimilates her into an English tradition of depicting queens in hunting dress, and the European practice of representing royalty in the company of dwarves — in this case, Jeffery Hudson, a famous member of the queen’s retinue.



Pomponne II de Bellievre, c. 1637-40

Pomponne II de Bellièvre, Lord of Grignon, came from a prominent family of French statesmen and twice served as French ambassador to the English court. Van Dyck most likely painted Bellièvre during the latter’s first posting to London.. Van Dyck’s likeness is a study in muted elegance, with Bellièvre’s long brown hair lapping over his floppy collar while a sash of crimson silk accents his otherwise black and white costume.




Prince William of Orange and Mary, Princess Royal, 1641


The marriage of William of Orange and Mary, daughter of Charles I and Henrietta Maria, provided an important link between the English court and the Dutch Republic. In this smoothly executed formal wedding portrait, Van Dyck depicts the two children with linked hands, calling attention to the princess’s wedding ring.  Account books record William’s many purchases on the occasion of his wedding, including the diamond brooch for Mary and suit of pink silk faithfully reproduced here.