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  • Writer's pictureMary Gray

A Brief History of Museo Horne in Florence

What is Museo Horne?

Museo Horne is a private collection turned into a priceless piece of shared heritage.

Museo Horne

Museo Horne History

Florence has had more than its share of eccentric bon vivant Anglophones who have been won over by the city’s charms and style of living – it’s a tradition that continues into the present day. Herbert Horne was just one in a long line of English-speaking Italophiles, but this art historian, architect, poet, designer and antiquarian made a notable impact on his adopted city.

A man of myriad talents and enthusiasms, Horne took a keen interest in the Italian Renaissance and its traditions. Born in London in 1864 and trained as an architect, he amassed a significant art collection after uprooting his life to Florence in 1905. A few years later, he decided to transform the former Palazzo Corsi on Via dei Benci – best known to casual visitors today as the street that leads to Santa Croce – into a museum, designed to replicate the ambience of town houses in the Renaissance period he so adored.

The sheer variety and scope of Horne’s connoisseurship is impressive: you’ll find a triptych by Pietro Lorenzetti, sculptural work by Giambologna, and pieces by Filippo and Filippino Lippi, while the archives house drawings and prints by Raphael and Reubens, among others. Distinguishing the Horne from more standard museums, however, is its extensive collection of furniture and accessories, from lavish historical tapestries to eclectic trinkets. In addition to all this there is the underlying sense that you’re moving through someone’s carefully curated yet cosy home.

This may well be the most distinctive facet of the Horne Museum – it somehow feels both like a showcase and an intimate space. With its range of fine sculptures and masterworks, like Giotto’s tempera-on-gold-ground painting of Saint Stephen (the one you’ll spot on all the brochures and signage) and the dark-hued Deposition by Benozzo Gozzoli, it’s hard to forget where you are. But the home furnishings and private, domestic setting, with flourishes like mirror holders and sewing needles, make it all feel more like an individual’s cabinet of curiosities than a civic museum.

Don’t skip the second floor: here Horne designed an additional space, the library, which today is home to nearly 5,000 books. (In his London days, he was friendly with Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw, among others.) The library was created primarily to serve as his personal study, and he duly lined it with both valuable antique volumes and modern editions.

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