The history of the American consulate in Florence and #Insieme200


The American Consulate in Florence is part of the United States Mission to Italy and is located at Lungarno Vespucci 38, in the former Palazzo Calcagnini (built 1876-77). This palazzo was purchased in 1949 by the American government, to serve as the site of the Consulate General.

Long before the United States acquired the palazzo however, its presence was already in Tuscany.  The first American consulate to the Grand Duchy of Tuscany was established in Livorno (then known in English as Leghorn), with consular agent Phillip Felicchi being appointed on 29 May 1794.

For some reason, Tuscany would not recognize any consulates posted in Florence, so the first U.S. Consular Agent to serve Florence was Vice Consular Agent James Ombrosi, who was under mandate from the U.S. Consulate at Leghorn (Livorno). Ombrosi was accredited on May 15, 1819.

In the years after the U.S. Civil War and the transition of the capital of the Kingdom of Italy from Florence to Rome, the U.S. Consul General was James Lorimer Graham. Graham was a New York banker and art collector; he and his wife Josephine lived in a building that is now known the Palazzo dei Congressi.

In the early 1870s, Florence was suffering the grave economic consequences of the sudden transfer of the capital, a move that left the city deeply in debt and had bankrupted many investors when boom turned to bust in “Firenze Capitale.”

Resulting higher taxes and slower growth led to widespread poverty. Mrs. Graham was a committed philanthropist back in New York, and so responded to this situation in a way familiar to her. She rallied members of the “American Colony” and started selling mistletoe baskets and Christmas trees to raise funds for the poor.

Then there was the more fraught holiday season of December of 1944. Though Florence had been liberated by the Allied Forces in August of that year, there was little rejoicing along the Gothic Line—the German defensive line that stretched from Carrara to Pesaro—as fighting raged and civilian and combatant casualties mounted.

In the early morning hours of a bitterly cold December 26, Axis forces launched a counter-offensive in the Garfagnana region of Lucca province, focused on and around the town of Barga.

The first target was the hilltop village of Sommocolonia, garrisoned by several hundred African-American “Buffalo Soldiers” and a handful of local partigiani.

During the fighting, German forces drove the Allied troops back. To avoid a complete rout, Army Lieutenant John R. Fox remained in his position in the Sommocolonia bell tower, calling in artillery strikes on the town and finally on his own position in order to slow the Axis advance. For Fox’s bravery and self-sacrifice, he was posthumously awarded the U.S.’s highest military honor, the Medal of Honor.

Today the American International League of Florence (AILO), organizes annual events to collect thousands of euro each year that are then donated to local charitable organizations.

Incidentally, the United States also has 5 other representations in Italy: American Consulate in Palermo; American Consulate in Naples; American Consulate in Milan;
American Consulate in Genoa; and the American Embassy in Rome.

The American Consulate in Florence represents one of 402 foreign consular and diplomatic representations from around the world in Italy.



2019 marks 200 years of American presence in Florence

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Do you have personal experiences or stories that were passed on to you about historic events that occurred in Tuscany, Emilia Romagna or the Republic of San Marino? Were you a Mud Angel? Did you have relatives who worked with the American Red Cross during World War I or witnessed the 5th Army’s fight along the Gothic Line in World War II? Are you doing something now that is strengthening the U.S.-Italy partnership? If so, the U.S. Consulate General in Florence would love to hear from you!

The Florence American consulate is collecting stories in anticipation of the bicentennial of its diplomatic presence in Florence in 2019.

Throughout that year, we hope to see a series of events across Tuscany, Emilia-Romagna and the Republic of San Marino exploring all facets of our past, present, and future together.

These commemorative events and related information will be highlighted on the Consulate’s social media platforms with the #Insieme200 (#Together200) hashtag.

Our 200 years here are built on a foundation of millions of personal and organizational ties, so we need your help to properly celebrate our bicentennial!

If your organization has an idea for a 200th anniversary commemorative event—large or small—or wants to get involved with the events being organized by the Consulate, please let us

To receive updates on the Consulate’s 200th anniversary and more, join the Consulate’s community by liking its Facebook page @USCGFlorence or following on Twitter!

23 new American sites added to the UNESCO World Heritage register

Across the nation, 23 locales have risen to become UNESCO World Heritage sites. And they’re all breathtaking.

Most likely, you have been to a UNESCO World Heritage site in the United States without knowing it. Remember that Griswoldian summer vacation to the Grand Canyon? The high school field trip to Independence Hall in Philadelphia? The college tour of the University of Virginia? Congratulations! That’s three in your pocket. But don’t stop now. You can collect all 23, intentionally or accidentally.

The end of the Corcoran Gallery of Art

A few years ago it was announced that the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington’s oldest private art museum, and its venerable college of art and design would cease to exist as an independent institution, and its components — artwork, historic building and school program — will be taken over by the National Gallery of Art and George Washington University.

Folinsbee_21_7John Fulton Folinsbee’s “Grey Thaw,” one of the works in the Corcoran’s collection. (Corcoran Gallery of Art’s board of trustees )

This week it was announced that the Corcoran’s board of trustees has decided that it will distribute almost 11,000 works remaining in its renowned collection, a historic giveaway that includes paintings by Washington Color School artist Sam Gilliam, photographs by Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange, and prints by 19th-century French master Honoré Daumier.

Almost 9,000 pieces will go to the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center, with others headed to 10 Smithsonian Institution museums, several universities and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The distribution marks the final stage of the dismantling of the famed Washington institution. Under a controversial 2014 deal, the National Gallery of Art had first dibs on the entire collection and ended up acquiring about 40 percent of the 19,493 works. George Washington University gained control of the museum’s independent school and its two historic buildings, including the Flagg Building on 17th Street NW.


For more, please see these sources:

How art history became an academic (& my favorite) field of study

Before Charles Eliot Norton had become Harvard’s first professor of that discipline, art history had, in general, been considered, not a field of study, but a matter of craft and technique to be taught by painters to other painters.

Scholarship about art, and especially about Italian art, entered a new era as the German universities began developing large-scale historical studies like those of Swiss scholar Jacob Burckhardt, whose Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy was published in English in 1878.


In Great Britain, tastes were influenced by the work of Norton’s close friend Ruskin in books like The Stones of Venice (1851–1853) and The Seven Lamps of Architecture (1849).


Following Ruskin, Norton loved best in Italy the powerful moral uplift of Dante and of Italy’s medieval Gothic architecture. In Norton’s art history courses, the Renaissance was the unhappy termination of the Middle Ages, which had been the last great era of spiritual unity and well-being.

There was a joke current among Harvard undergraduates that Norton had died and was just being admitted to Heaven, but at his first glimpse staggered backward exclaiming, “Oh! Oh! Oh! So Overdone! So garish! So Renaissance!”

“Norton,” Bernard Berenson commented drily years later, had done what he could at Harvard to restrain “all efforts toward art itself.”

Rachel,Cohen. Bernard Berenson (Jewish Lives) (p. 45). Yale University Press. Kindle Edition.


Saving Florence’s art during WWII

ON JULY 4, the same day Keller arrived in Siena, Superintendent of Florentine Galleries Giovanni Poggi received a summons to report to the German Military Commander of Tuscany, Colonel Metzner. With barely a greeting, Metzner asked “if Villa Bossi-Pucci in Montagnana contained works of art of such importance to require their transportation across the Apennines” to northern Italy?

Poggi, fluent in both German and French, was surprised by Metzner’s sudden mention of Montagnana, site of the Villa Bossi-Pucci, which served as one of Tuscany’s thirty-eight art repositories. The constant shifting of the battlefield had prevented Poggi and his team from reaching many of the Tuscan repositories, but the Germans had no such impediment.

Metzner’s sudden curiosity about the Villa Bossi-Pucci—which housed close to three hundred masterpieces from the Uffizi Gallery and the Palatine Gallery at the Pitti Palace, including Botticelli’s Minerva and the Centaur, Giovanni Bellini’s Pietà, and Caravaggio’s Sleeping Amor—was cause for great concern. By July 1944, few men in the world had more hands-on experience protecting works of art than Poggi, a native Florentine described by Hartt as “a character who walked out from one of Ghirlandaio’s frescoes.”

Poggi oversaw a domain that included the provinces of Florence, Arezzo, and Pistoia. At age sixty-four, he had lived long enough to witness war engulf his homeland twice. Fate selected Poggi to be a defender of the arts. An illustrious connoisseur and curator, he had been appointed Director of the esteemed Uffizi Gallery in 1912, at the age of thirty-two.

The following year, he helped recover the world’s most famous painting, Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, stolen from the Louvre in 1911. The painting had been missing for more than two years before surfacing in a Florence hotel. After a brief showing at the Uffizi, and a tour through Italy, Poggi accompanied the painting back to Paris in December 1913.

Just six months later, the outbreak of the Great War consumed Europe. The burning of the library in Louvain galvanized art officials across the continent. Few if any nations had more at risk than Italy, no single city more than Florence. Poggi’s quick work protecting the Uffizi’s treasures drew the attention of officials in Rome. Soon they enlisted his aid in safeguarding prominent masterpieces in other Italian cities.

Now, for the second time in twenty-six years, Poggi found himself responsible for protecting the treasures of Tuscany from a world at war. Poggi calmly answered Metzner’s question, telling him that there were indeed highly important works from the galleries and museums of the State in Montagnana.

But, “due to agreements taken with the General Direction of the Arts and with the Office directed by Colonel Langsdorff, it had been decided, as with the other repositories, not to remove anything unless there were some urgent peril, and in that case paintings would have been moved to Florence and not across the Apennines.” Unfazed, Metzner pressed Poggi further, asking in an ominous tone, “So you are rejecting our offer?” Ten months of dealing with German officers had taught Poggi to appeal to their authority—and ego. He explained: “We are not rejecting it, on the contrary, we are grateful. We accept it in the event that it becomes necessary to move these things to Florence.” The meeting concluded soon thereafter; Poggi assumed his replies had settled the matter.

THE OUTBREAK OF war in 1940 had caused Italian superintendents to transfer collections to areas outside the city centers. Acting with “frenzied lucidity,” Poggi and his team had moved almost six hundred major works to privately owned villas and palaces in the Tuscan countryside in less than two weeks. That number had increased more than eighteenfold—to 11,139 various art objects—within six weeks. Those that couldn’t be moved, usually due to their size and weight, had to be protected in situ, often by employing the most ingenious of methods.

Local artisans built a brick tomb around Michelangelo’s towering sculpture of David, and smaller ones for each of his adjacent works, referred to as the Slaves. Poggi hoped that these brick silos would provide protection against bomb fragments or even the collapse of the roof in the event of a direct hit on the building. With the dramatic increase in Allied bombing of Italian cities in the fall of 1942, Poggi and other superintendents received orders to make additional evacuations from the cities.

This required him to secure more villas for storage. The groupings of art were historic. Villa di Torre a Cona contained not only Michelangelo’s statues from the Medici tombs in the Church of San Lorenzo but all of the contents of the master’s family home, Casa Buonarroti. This collection contained two of his earliest works and many of his letters and drawings. Never before had so many of Michelangelo’s works

been gathered in one place. Sitting alongside were masterpieces by Verrocchio, Donatello, Della Robbia, Lorenzo Monaco, and the most important surviving work by the Flemish painter Hugo van der Goes, the Portinari Altarpiece. The quality and rarity of the art was simply staggering. The Castle of Montegufoni housed 246 masterpieces from the Uffizi and the Pitti by great masters such as Cimabue, Giotto, Botticelli, Raphael, Andrea del Sarto, Pontormo, and Rubens.

The repository at Poppiano sheltered Pontormo’s emotive masterpiece, Deposition from the Cross, from the Capponi Chapel in the Church of Santa Felicita, and Rosso Fiorentino’s crowning achievement, Descent from the Cross, from the town of Volterra. The Palazzo Pretorio at Poppi held Hans Memling’s Portrait of a Young Man and Michelangelo’s Mask of a Faun; the Oratory of Sant’Onofrio at Dicomano contained Roman sculptures and sarcophagi; the villa at Poggio a Caiano housed Donatello’s Saint George and Michelangelo’s Bacchus. The quality and importance of each villa’s contents surpassed the last, each filled with the accomplishments of civilization’s most creative minds. The fall of the Badoglio-led government and the occupation of Italy by German forces in September 1943 prompted most Italian art officials, including Lavagnino and Rotondi, to relocate their collections to the Vatican. But Poggi made the decision to keep the Tuscan artworks within his reach at their existing countryside repositories.

These villas, he believed, afforded more protection from aerial attack than any fortress in an urban setting. By the time he realized that the Tuscan repositories lay in the path of the coming ground battle, it was too late to return all of the works of art to Florence. And that gave rise to another concern, one he could do nothing about: perhaps overconfident at the time, Poggi had allowed many of the masterpieces to be transported from Florence uncrated. Poggi certainly knew that the safest place for a painting was hanging on the wall of a museum.

Once it began a journey, the risks of damage increased dramatically. Moving uncrated paintings in trucks exposed them to dust. Canvases were vulnerable to tears, punctures, and scratches. Vibration alone could cause the wood of a panel painting to split. Poggi also knew well that paintings on panel are reactive to sudden changes in humidity. Low humidity during winter weather diminishes the moisture in the wood, increasing the risk it might crack. Sculpture, whether marble (more durable) or terra-cotta (more fragile), was always at risk of being chipped, much less ruined if dropped. Subsequent moves would compound these risks even further,

SS Colonel Alexander Langsdorff, head of the Kunstschutz, to discuss how best to protect the Florence repositories from the looming battle. Anti insisted that the treasures be evacuated again and moved north, but his argument ignored the shortage of transportation and the speed with which enemy troops were approaching Tuscany. After a heated discussion, Poggi prevailed. The art would remain in the existing repositories. “It is too late,” Anti noted ominously in his diary.

In early July, Social Republic officials once again pressed for the works of art to be transported northward. Certain that he knew what was best for “his” works of art, Poggi shrewdly parried the request with the Medici Family Pact of 1737, which required that their collection (the core of the Uffizi and Pitti collections) “never be removed or taken outside its capital and the Grand Duchy.” At this stage of the war, Poggi had no real power to keep Fascist officials or the Germans from removing works of art. Clever excuses and tricks were his only tools.

Several days later, Poggi received a shocking telephone call from the German Consul, Dr. Gerhard Wolf, informing him that Wehrmacht troops had loaded 291 paintings from the Villa Bossi-Pucci repository at Montagnana onto trucks and taken them to the small town of Marano sul Panaro near Modena, some ninety miles north of Florence. This was the same villa Colonel Metzner had questioned Poggi about just days earlier. “At one blow at least an

eighth of the most prized contents of the Uffizi and Pitti had vanished.” Further queries by Consul Wolf later revealed the treachery: the paintings had been taken—and were already en route north—before Metzner’s portentous meeting with Poggi on July 4. Gerhard Wolf requested that Langsdorff report to Florence to resolve the matter. Without transportation, Poggi could do nothing. On Sunday evening, July 16, Poggi received a call from Consul Wolf’s assistant, advising him that a different German unit had removed works of art from a second, as-yet-unidentified repository. Poggi should expect to take custody of them at German Military Headquarters, in Florence’s Piazza San Marco, the next day at 8 a.m.

With no sign of Langsdorff, and no further word about the disposition of the artworks from Villa Bossi-Pucci, this latest news horrified and infuriated Poggi. The following morning, Poggi and other officials watched three German trucks pull into Piazza San Marco, right on time. The officer in charge of the operation, Colonel Hoffmann, informed them “that since the castle of Oliveto was under the fire of the Allied artillery, the military command of the area had decided on the immediate transport to Florence of the works of art.” The unloading of paintings commenced, notably those from the Horne Foundation museum and altarpieces from the city’s churches—eighty-four paintings, twenty-three crates, and five frames. For reasons Hoffmann didn’t explain, more than one hundred paintings had been left behind. While Poggi tried to make sense of it all, the custodian of the repository at the Castello Guicciardini in Oliveto, Augusto Conti, who had accompanied the trucks into Florence, discreetly informed him that Hoffmann’s explanation was a lie. The area around the castello had been quiet, void of any combat activity. Conti then shared even more distressing news.

Two panel paintings by German Renaissance painter Lucas Cranach the Elder—Adam and Eve—had been loaded into an ambulance. He had no idea what had happened to them after that. Poggi knew both paintings well—and he knew that Hitler did too. During the Führer’s 1938 tour of the Uffizi, Poggi remembered watching how much Hitler had admired the German painter’s works. The disappearance of such masterpieces, which had entered the collection of the Medici in the late eighteenth century, caused great alarm among Florentine officials. Langsdorff finally arrived in Florence on July 17.

Poggi assumed he could rely on the senior representative of the Kunstschutz, just as he had in May, when Langsdorff had provided cranes, trucks, and personnel to return Ghiberti’s Baptistery doors to the Pitti Palace. Poggi began by informing Langsdorff of the removals from the Castello Guicciardini in Oliveto that Colonel Hoffmann had delivered just hours earlier. That a portion of the contents from the Oliveto repository never made it to Florence, in particular the two Cranach paintings of Adam and Eve, worried him.

These removals violated the agreement made among Poggi, Carlo Anti, and Langsdorff at their June 18 meeting: in the event of any emergency evacuations of repositories, works of art were to be brought to Florence. Under no circumstances could this occur again. Langsdorff assured Poggi that not only would he investigate what had happened to the missing items, he would accept full responsibility for locating and returning the Cranach paintings to Florence. As part of his investigation, Langsdorff asked Poggi to prepare a memorandum summarizing what he knew about the removal of art from the Villa Bossi-Pucci. When the report was completed, he wanted it delivered to the Hotel Excelsior, where he had a room overlooking the Ponte Santa Trinita and the Ponte Vecchio.

This response hardly satisfied Poggi, but, under the circumstances, he could do little else. News of continued Allied advances forced Langsdorff to reassess orders he had received from Army High Command (OKH) three days earlier, stating, “The rescue of art objects by the troops has to generally be stopped.” The order also included a directive stating that any art objects that had already been removed should be turned over to the “bishops of Bologna or Modena.” German troops had in fact attempted a delivery of the Montagnana items, but the bishops had turned them away, stating they didn’t have sufficient space to store the items nor did they have authority to accept such responsibility. Cranach paintings, and he repeated his promise to find and return them to Florence. What Langsdorff didn’t tell Poggi was that the Cranachs were already safe. In fact, they were in his possession, “handed over by the troops . . . asking me to take them north, so that they would not fall into the hands of the British or the Americans.” In the course of his debriefing of Infantry Regiment 71’s Oberleutnant Feldhusen in Oliveto, Langsdorff learned that the Cranachs had been “separated from the rest because they were ‘Germanic art’ and could not be exposed to the danger of being returned to Florence.” Never mind the fact that Infantry Regiment 71 had traveled those same unsafe, bomb-cratered roads into Florence two nights earlier. He then wrote out a receipt for “two undamaged pictures, Adam and Eve, by Lukas Cranach which are to be taken to Germany by the undersigned, MV Abt. Chef Langsdorff,” and handed it to the Oberleutnant. Using the safe passage afforded by an ambulance, Langsdorff and his “passengers”—Adam and Eve—set out for Florence, just as he had assured Poggi he would do. Wednesday evening, July 19, Poggi stopped by the Hotel Excelsior to visit with Langsdorff and deliver the memorandum he’d been asked to prepare concerning the Montagnana removals. Much to Poggi’s surprise, Langsdorff had already checked out and departed Florence. Had Poggi thought to ask the concierge, he might have learned that Langsdorff left the hotel with two life-size parcels that, oddly enough, had arrived two nights before in an ambulance. In just two weeks, Poggi had been duped by the German Military Commander of Florence, Colonel Metzner, and lied to by the officer who delivered the works of art from Oliveto, Colonel Hoffmann. But those two betrayals paled in comparison to the disappointment he felt toward Langsdorff. Unlike the other two officers, Langsdorff was the senior German Kunstschutz official in Italy. He had an obligation to protect art, not to steal it.

Edsel, Robert M.. Saving Italy: The Race to Rescue a Nation’s Treasures from the Nazis (pp. 148-149). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.