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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of Palazzo Davanzati in Florence

What is Palazzo Davanzati?

Palazzo Davanzati is a historic house museum that was once owned by a prominent merchant family.

Palazzo Davanzati

Palazzo Davanzati History

If you’re very easily offended, this may not be the place for you because this celebrated 14th-century mansion contains an image of a topless duchess in bed with her duke. It’s part of a series of frescoes found in the bedroom on the second floor depicting a famous moralistic and dramatic tale of love and death from the time, an anonymously written short romance of courtly love in Old French, La Châtelaine de Vergy.

The story involves one of the Duke of Burgundy’s knights, who is the lover of the châtelaine, the duke's niece. She has made him take a vow to keep their relationship secret. However, the Duchess of Burgundy also falls for the knight. He rejects her advances due to his love for another and his loyalty to her husband. The duchess, furious and jealous, tells her husband that the knight is disloyal to him and has tried to seduce her, and the duke accuses the knight of treachery. The young man reveals his love for the châtelaine, to save his honour and ensure he can stay near her, meaning that he has broken his promise to keep their secret.

The duke explains the situation to his wife, expecting her to respect the lovers’ secrecy, but she does not. Realising her suitor has broken his promise to her, the châtelaine despairs and dies. The knight finds her body and kills himself, while the duke exacts vengeance on the duchess by killing her with the young man’s sword.

Aside from this bedroom and its frescoes, you can explore the building’s spacious entrance hall, the first-floor reception room with its original painted wood ceiling and Renaissance tapestry panels, as well as the original kitchen. The kitchen is situated on the top floor, to prevent hot air and cooking fumes from filling the property during summer.

Constructed from sandstone, the palace was built in the mid-14th century by the Davizzi family, wealthy members of the city’s famous wool guild. Its façade unifies a group of medieval tower homes and a courtyard. Inside, it’s richly decorated and furnished, and there are colourful frescoes of parrots and peacocks, a collection of Tuscan lace, and artworks such as the Madonna and Child by Renaissance master Filippo Brunelleschi. The building was later acquired by Bernardo Davanzati, a successful merchant, whose coat of arms is still visible on the façade.

In 1904, the palazzo was restored by an antiques dealer and turned into a museum a few years later, before being purchased by the state who reopened it to the public in the 1950s.

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