This amazing story begins in the shadowy halls of a Florentine palace. Only in Florence can one encounter that magical atmosphere and unhurried pace inherent to a noble family’s lifestyle. Florence today is a city of Italian sovereigns. It is here that you’ll find the living descendants of Italy’s ancient aristocratic dynasty, one of them being the distinguished Marquis Vittorio Gondi. A successor of Florence’s historic Gondi dynasty, the family included known diplomats, bankers, cardinals, and collectors.
We have the pleasure of meeting the Marquis in the Gondi ancestral palace. A masterpiece of Renaissance architecture, the Palazzo Gondi is located in the heart of Florence, near the Palazzo Vecchio. However, unlike the latter, the Palazzo Gondi has remained privately owned, and getting access to it and its impressive collection of art, antiques, and architectural masterpieces requires a personal invitation by the Marquis himself. So obviously for me it was a huge honor to receive an invitation to spend the day amidst the palace’s spectacular awnings.
Like the Strozzi family, the Gondi’s were an order of knights, descendants of the Philippi, close confidants of King Charlemagne. Needless to say, they have a rich and colorful history. They are even mentioned in Dante’s Divine Comedy. The founder of the Gondi dynasty was a senator of the Republic of Florence, and in the mid-13th century, he was one of the most influential figures of the time. Years later, a direct descendant Giuliano Gondi requested that architect Giuliano da Sangallo build not only the Palazzo Gondi, but also erect the family chapel at the church of Santa Maria Novella.
In the 16th century, the Gondi clan moved to France, where the head of the family opened his own bank. At the time, they were the only Italian family to be recognized by the French emperor, and were also very close to Catherine de Medici, as Albert de Gondi was her personal advisor. He was awarded the title of Marshal of France, followed by the title Marquis of Belle- Ile, and finally Duke of Retz. His brother Albert Piero Gondi forged a distinguished career in the Catholic church, rising to the rank of Cardinal, to then go on to become the archbishop of Paris. In the famed Notre Dame cathedral it is still possible to see the Gondi chapel, while the majestic Louvre museum hosts an impressive array of works from the family’s personal art collection.
The Florentine palace also boasts its fair share of art and architectural pieces. One piece that particularly stands out is the monumental fireplace located in the main hall of the first floor. At more than two meters width, it is the largest fireplace in Italy! Gondi family crests and portraits of prominent ancestors adorn the walls. “That is Alberto in his military uniform, while the man in the crimson robe is Cardinal Retz…” the Marquis explains. Usually a very private and discreet man, today he is happy to divulge some information about his family, and of course I listen with bated breath…
After a stroll throughout the palace we climb the steps to the edifice’s terrace, where we take in views of Florence’s historic center, with its gorgeous variety of church domes, palace rooftops, and sunny squares. “This terrace is my favorite spot in the whole palace,” the Marquis confesses. “This open area on the top floor is very typical of Florentine palaces from the Renaissance period. It was originally used for drying clothes, because in those days the last floors were considered less prestigious and therefore intended only for servants.”
Today the last floor of the Palazzo is composed of luxury apartments that look upon the open terrace. An array of the Marquis’s elite guests have resided here. The penthouse, for example, has long been the home of Baron Rockefeller. Curious about gaining access to these spectacular apartments? Write to firstname.lastname@example.org!
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