Monday, May 16, 2016

Palazzo Corsini and the Artisans

Artigianato e Palazzo
 A high-end craft fair in a special setting

the loggia of Palazzo Corsini, a former casinò or hunting lodge which was in fact a villa surrounded by a garden; the many Greek, Latin and Etruscan plaques on the villa wall were collected by an 18th century Corsini
the setting for the annual craft fair: in the 17th century the sculptures were placed on pedestals of decreasing height to give a greater sense of depth and perspective from the loggia. Some of the original sculptures are now housed in the Bargello while others are at either end of the bridge of the Santa Trinità.
one of the barn-like limonaie or lemonaries where 130-plus citrus trees overwinter in their huge terracotta pots
For the past 22 years, each May, in the middle of the month, a unique range of arts and crafts is on display in a unique Florentine location.
the parterre: neat box hedging is filled with sumptuous peonies; teucrium, cistus, roses and lavender abound - recent departures from the original purely baroque setting

Three elements of this event make it exceptional.
cheerful medieval-cum-renaissance-style tents provide shade for diners

tent for cookery courses held over the weekend by the famous Gualtiero Marchesi and food writers including Luisanna Messeri who wrote 111 Italian recipes you must know how to cook.

First, the location: the gardens of Palazzo Corsini situated near Porta al Prato, between the Lungarno Vespucci and the Santa Maria Novella station. Normally hidden away behind imposing walls, on this occasion the gardens are open to the public for four days. The gardens and the hunting lodge represent a piece of Florentine history which would require a dedicated post. Suffice it to say that they were first designed by Buontalenti in 1590 for the Acciaiuoli family. Thanks to the family's interest in botany they lived on the ground floor rather than on the piano nobile or first floor. Hence the finestre inginocchiate, literally 'kneeling windows', which afford a full view of the garden. Shortly after, in 1620, the Acciaiuoli family fortunes faltered and the Corsini family took over the palazzo. Then the garden consisted of a simples or medicinal herb garden and a holm oak wood. Corsini commissioned Silvani to create the statue-lined avenue, the geometrical box parterre and a laurel maze. In the 18th century the Corsini family reached the apex of its power and influence when Lorenzo Corsini became Pope Clement XII. In the 19th century this summer residence (the family lived most of the year on the Lungarno), became the principle home of Marquis Neri Corsini who enlarged the garden; buildings and romantic English garden elements such as wooded paths and a small lake were added, the latter being promptly removed since it attracted mosquitoes. The most recent alterations (the plantings of peonies etc) took place in the 1980s, directed by Giorgiana Corsini, the family's doyenne who is still so active today in making the craft fair a success. The palazzo itself is symbolically significant to a fair dedicated to both the artisans and their sponsors, as the fair's title suggests. E le loro committenze, (committenze: those who order the products): the implication being that in the past, without the palazzo, without commissions, the artisans would not have thrived. A lesson for today.

the approach from the Via della Scala entrance
a limonaia flanked by sunken greenhouses, still partially in use
charming little sculpture almost hidden from view above what was formerly a pond; the boy is astride a tortoise: it appears that the garden hosts approximately 100 live tortoises
linden trees providing shade and their inimitable perfume this time of year
another view of the parterre
a glimpse of a secret garden tucked away within the garden, leading to someone's pied-à-terre. The garden as a whole comprises a formal section, a horticultural section now given over to roses, a small tree-filled park, three lemonaries, a rose garden, a 'green theatre' as at Villa Marlia,and several avenues: all inside what is now central Florence.

Second: the artisans: many of the participants ply their crafts at the fair, so the visitor can admire gold- and silversmiths, glasscutters, potters, embroiderers, pastrymakers, glassblowers, basketweavers, violin makers, milliners and more, at work. Apart from the craftspeople in action, the wares displayed by others include costume jewellery, paper articles, porcelain, interior decoration (a striking example, not illustrated here, was Robin Art Studio, handpainted murals for interiors),leatherware, perfumes and cosmetics, embroidery, feathers, clothes, shoes, textiles and glassware, plants and oggettistica or gifts and household articles and even forcole (the oarlocks for gondolas which are beautiful objects in themselves) by Il Forcolaio Matto. The mix changes each year and new artisans are introduced on a regular basis.
Tommaso de Carlo, decorator, preparing his sketch on a door panel
the tools of the silversmith's trade - Argentiere Pagliai are masters of their art and restore, take commissions and sell their own historic lines
Arte Ricami Macchi, the finest classical embroidery: the proud artist is Nazarena Bastioni, her telephone is 360596236
Don Gino is a Sicilian pastrycook of the highest order (I know, I tried).Here at work on an updated version of the cassata
Glasscutting: a rare skill. Florence boasts one of the best and almost only glasscutters in Italy, Locchi. Via D.Burchiello, 10, telephone 055 2298371. They restore, repair, work to order and their plain laboratory and shop is full of wonders.
the tools of the gold- and silversmith's trade: note the special hammer
the goldsmith's worktable and his leather apron
In a section dedicated to young craftspeople we came across a Florentine liutaio, lute maker, the Italians' lovely name for someone who crafts stringed instruments: Tommaso Pedani

the outdoor workshop of the basketweavers. In Tuscany they use principally willow, olive, elm and privet. Giotto Scaramelli, Scandicci Firenze, telephone 329 1780061
sculptures, bowls and jewellery not so much functional as creative, Paolo Staccioli.
straw hats for all occasions, locally made in Florence by the Consorzio il Cappello Firenze
Third, the artisans are without exception chosen for the high standard of their work. They are mostly Tuscan but many hail from various parts of Italy and a smattering from other parts of Europe. Below is a tiny selection of their production. 
water cup with a snake handle
water cup for a child with farm animal motifs: according to the silversmiths silver is advisable for drinking water since it has naturally disinfecting properties...hmm.
luscious cassata decorated before our eyes with candied pumpkin, pears, figs and orange
lovingly made dresses for little princesses
unique porcelain bowls and sculptures with lustre glazes

Casentino boiled wool coats and jackets in their inimitable warm colours
one of several speciality food stands, this one from Northern Italy Azienda Agricola San Faustino
an unusual paper craft: transforming old books into art objects; the artist also fashions earrings and other items out of folded paper. Crizu
Several corners of the fair demonstrate the organizers' open and innovative approach. A workshop offers visiting children the materials to get creative; a stand features the cheerful tie dye designs on silk of a small cooperative which promotes the work of young people with Down syndrome; a competition awards 10 young designers a place at the fair to showcase their skills and 10 young bloggers involved in the craft/tourism/fashion sectors the opportunity to comment on the fair itself.
attractive display of roses and other flowering plants greeted us on the lawn in front of the palazzo - Mondorose

Although it probably escaped the attention of the casual visitor, the overarching theme of this year's fair was Water, since 2016 is the 50th anniversary of the great flood of Florence (this would account for the use of swimming pool-blue floor coverings and some of the more inexplicable displays such as the blue dress in waves of tulle featured at the top of the sculpture walk). However the creative aspects of water were being celebrated here: its role in many crafts. The little demonstration above was set up by a shirtmaker to illustrate their use of natural dyes - and consequently their use of water.

Artigianato e Palazzo, botteghe artigiane e loro committenze,
artisan workshops and their sponsors, Giardino Corsini, four days every year in mid May. Entrance in via della Scala, 115, not far from Porta al Prato and Santa Maria Novella station.
Entrance is 8 euros, 6 with concessions, from 10am to 9pm.
wonderful old marble bath, now a garden trough, in the grounds of palazzo Corsini

1 comment:

  1. "A High-End Craft Fair"certainly,in fact a superb and unique one,and in a most wonderful setting within this great city of Florence.What a privilege to also have the opportunity of actually seeing these highly gifted artisans plying their crafts.


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