By Camilla Bruschi, Researcher and Curator
In Florence, in the old Via del’Amore, now called Via Sant’Antonino, stands Palazzo Viviani now known as Palazzo dei Cartelloni and home to Studio Art Centers International (SACI).
It has been shown, from research conducted in the State Archive of Florence, that in 1534 in the last two decades of the XVII century, Vincenzo Viviani (1622-1703), a follower of the great scientist Galileo Galilei, bought some properties in this street which were then merged together into a single building.
According to the research done on the Palazzo dei Cartelloni, in 1684 Viviani bought a house for 2,700 scudos from the “Spedale degli Innocenti” that was owned by the Del Giocondo family. A second house, which appeared in poor condition, was bought in 1686 for the modest sum of 400 scudos from the nuns of San Niccolò, who had inherited it from a cobbler, Bartolomeo di Iacopo Ramoli. Finally, in 1687, he took possession of two rooms belonging to a neighbor Montalve paying 56 scudos for them. Following this purchase Viviani began renovation work, entrusting the management of the works to Giovan Battista Nelli (1661-1725).
In December 1689, the construction was not yet complete, although many of the various architectural elements were already prepared and in process. Fearing that after his death the building would remain unfinished, Viviani established in his will that his family coat of arms would be placed on the facade and never to be removed.
On the facade of the building were also placed a bust of Galileo Galilei, executed by Giovan Battista Foggini, and two enormous encomiastic inscriptions regarding the famous astronomer’s life. The long inscriptions led the Florentines to call the palace “Palazzo dei Cartelloni”, and they even gave the name to that part of the street which was known as Via dei Cartelloni for a short period of time. After Galileo’s death, in 1642, Viviani, who was his beloved pupil, actively promoted the erection of a monument in Santa Croce in memory of his maestro, and even left a large sum of money in his will to support this initiative. Following the instructions in his will, he was buried alongside the great scientist, and on his tomb was written only that he was his last disciple.
After Viviani’s death in 1733 the building passed to Giovan Battista Clemente Nelli (1725-1793), the son of the architect who had designed the palace as it is today.
It has been shown, from archival research, that in 1534 the Del Giocondo family already owned some properties. Girolamo d’Antonio Del Giocondo is named in the 1517 Tithe Records as the neighbor of Raffaello Migliorelli who owned the building next door. In the survey of 1480 the Del Giocondos do not result as inhabitants in Via dell’Amore and instead appear to have lived in San Lorenzo, in Via Santa Maria, at the corner with Via della Stufa.
The progenitor, Rudolph Del Giocondo, was known in Florence in the XIII century as a representative of merchants. Over time his descendants, who successfully expanded their ancestor’s commercial activities, managed to gather a large patrimony in the first decades of the XVth Century, including country farms and houses within the city. This patrimony remained intact up until the second half of the XVIth century, when the family’s economic prosperity began to decline.
Belonging to the wealthy classes, many members of the family held important public positions and roles within the city’s government. Since 1375 with Francesco di Bartolomeo, and up until 1531 with Bartolomeo di Giovanni, no less than eleven members of the family appear to have participated in the “Tratte”, the occasional elections of the Signoria magistrates. During the Medici principality’s existence the Del Giocondo family certainly belonged to the Tuscan Order of Saint Stephen, founded as a dynastic order by Cosimo I in 1562.
Just as other famous Florentine families, some of which where bound to them by matrimonies, also the Del Giocondo family owned tombs in the city’s main churches: the genealogical line residing in Via dell’Amore chose the nearby Santa Maria Novella, while the side of the family living in Via della Stufa preferred Santissima Annunziata. However there is little doubt that the family became known mostly thanks to the 1495 marriage between Francesco di Bartolomeo di Zanobi del Giocondo, born in 1465, and Lisa di Anton Maria di Noldo Gherardini, born in 1479. Francesco, who belonged to the Via della Stufa side of the family and was marrying for the second time, was so much in love with his new wife that he asked Leonardo da Vinci in person to paint her portrait.
This commission is also remembered by Vasari in his Vite: “for Francesco del Giocondo Lionardo began painting the portrait of his wife Mona Lisa, and after working on it for four years he left it somewhat imperfect…” In the painting the woman hints at an enigmatic smile which Vasari, although he had never seen the painting, and was thus speaking solely on the basis of descriptions, described as follows: “…There was a smile so pleasant, that it was more divine than human.”
Text above exerted from Palazzo dei Cartelloni, Formerly Palazzo dei Viviani (by Mary Beckinsale and Camilla Bruschi, paperback, 23 pages, © SACI, The Underdog Press, 2010. All rights reserved.)