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  • Writer's pictureBen West

A Brief History of Palazzo Martelli in Florence

What is Palazzo Martelli?

Palazzo Martelli is an art gallery in a Renaissance palace decorated with newly discovered treasures and is only open for guided visits.

Palazzo Martelli

sailko, CC BY 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Palazzo Martelli History

It’s an extra treat when something new is discovered in a building that has been standing for centuries. That’s what happened here at this 16th-century palace, the Palazzo (or Casa) Martelli, just a stone’s throw from Florence’s famed cathedral. A renovation scheme to open some previously unused rooms to the public and include amenities such as a bookshop and coffee shop unearthed murals and decorations over 200 years old. Initial cleaning tests conducted in 2019 revealed tempera wall paintings underneath the modern white plaster surfaces. When the plaster was removed, the palazzo had acquired two ornately decorated halls, with frescoes that extend from floor to ceiling and include geometric and classical motifs, landscape scenes and an image of a pavilion draped in fabric. It’s thought that they were painted for the 1809 marriage of the bailiff of Florence, Niccolò Martelli, and Caterina de’ Ricci.

These fabulous rooms now offer an extra attraction in a grand building that already boasts numerous masterpieces, namely the art collection of the Martelli family, who once owned the palazzo. Although many artworks have been sold over the years – the Martelli fell on hard times eventually – a very impressive display remains. A walk through the museum offers an intriguing insight into the life of a prominent mercantile family who settled in Florence in the 14th century, amassed considerable wealth and political influence, and enjoyed close ties with the Medici.

Within the gallery you’ll find paintings and tapestries spanning the 15th to the 19th centuries, by Pieter Brueghel the Younger, Domenico Beccafumi and Salvator Rosa, as well as bronze statuettes depicting copies of classical subjects, boxwood sculptures, and a fine terracotta bust.

With the property beautifully preserved in its original state, it’s more like walking through an aristocratic mansion than a public museum. Rooms are very much decorated as they would have been when the family lived here in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their last descendant, Francesca Martelli, died in 1986, ending the bloodline of this once-prominent Florentine dynasty. A devout woman who never married, Francesca lived as a hermit and left her entire estate to the Church. The Italian State acquired the palazzo in 1998, opening it to the public a decade later, so that nowadays everyone can appreciate the building’s charm.

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