Florence is internationally known as the cradle of the Renaissance and for the numerous famous buildings and museums. There are hidden gems among all the countless masterpieces that are worth a visit and have to be considered a true treat for the sophisticated traveller.
Usually closed to the public, although part of the Uffizi Heritage, the beautiful Contini Bonacossi Collection, one of the most important of the XXth century will be highly appreciated by the art-lovers seeking off-the-beaten tracks venues. The collection includes about 50 valuable pieces, among which paintings and sculptures from artists such as Bernini, Tintoretto, Goya, Velasquez, Andrea del Castagno, just to name a few. Last time I was there, the one I was fascinated the most, as usual, was Bernini’s statue of ‘St Lawrence martyred on a gridiron’ which stunningly looks like living matter. Another piece that stands out for me is the beautiful ‘Our Lady of the Snow’ by Sienese artist Sassetta, on of the major representatives of Sienese School of 1400: his works can be found at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, at the Cini Foundation in Venice, National Gallery of Victoria Melbourne, at the Louvre and of course in Siena.
The collection also features precious furniture; unique wedding chests, refined majolica ceramic pieces, and also 12 Della Robbia coat of arms and statues.
The affluent art collector and dealer Count Alessandro Contini Bonacossi put together this collection with his wife, Vittoria at the beginning of the XXth century. They started from nothing as stamps collectors then made this interest their main activity, switching to antique art and rapidly gaining the trust of Italian collectors and American ones. Among their American clients, we can find Felix Warburg, Simon Guggenheim and above all Samuel Henry Kress. Thanks to the acquisitions and the friendship with Alessandro Contini Bonacossi, Kress bought hundreds of pieces, created a collection that became part of the Kress Foundation and donated art pieces to many museums in the US, namely the National Gallery of Art in Washington DC.
A book has recently been published by Sandro Pazzi, the lawyer who assisted the Contini Bonacossi family during the complicate sequence of events; it is a very interesting piece of their lives and above all of art dealing at the beginning of the XXth century in Europe and in the United States. The book also aims at underlying the value of the largest art donation to the Italian Government in the XXth century, the ‘forgotten’ donation- according to the book – to the city of Florence, namely to the Uffizi Gallery. For those who can read in Italian, ‘La donazione dimenticata’ by Sandro Pazzi is worth a walk to the nearest bookstore.
Admission and Reservation
The Contini Bonaccossi Collection can only be visited upon reservation.
Guided tours are free of charge and take place on Wednesday afternoon (at 2pm and 4pm), for groups of 15 persons max. The tours are in Italian but as the language of art is pretty international, they are worth anyway.
Reservations can be made by calling at +39 055 238 8693 (Staff Coordination Office of the Uffizi), from Tuesday to Saturday between 2.30pm and 4.30pm.
Visitors are required to pass through a metal detector and therefore I highly recommend not to carry big bags and backpacks.
Take a break at Continentale Hotel…
After this very special visit it would be perhaps nice sitting and taking a break, taking notes of all the beauty that was gathered in the ten rooms of that unknown part of the Uffizi Gallery.
Choices are endless so it is hard for me now to pick just a couple of names.
You can reach, by a short and pleasant walk, the Terrazza Lounge bar at Continentale Hotel. Located at the roof top of the medieval Consorti tower, this is a fabulous trendy spot at spring and summer time as it closes at some point early in autumn. The view is just unique and strikingly beautiful on the Arno river. You will find yourself just above the Ponte Vecchio and your eyes will look to the Cathedral on one side, Palazzo Vecchio… And San Miniato Hill and Church on the other. The Terrazza Lounge is an unforgettable and unmissable location where to sit and relax and could be a vantage point for selfies…
This is a spot where cool gatherings can take place and even painting lessons, as the program for 2017 shows, starting from May 2017!
Before getting off the hotel, take some time to stop on first floor and stay a few minutes in the lounge chairs overlooking the Arno river; throughout the hotel there are gorgeous windows from where enjoying the unique view. The interior is elegant and bold, inspired by the 1950ies, by the excellent architect and interior designer Michele Bonan, who designed all Ferragamo hotels.
… Or at Ditta Artigianale
Walking only few minutes more and heading to the other side of the Arno (called Oltrarno by Florentines), Ditta Artigianale has opened the second spot in town, few steps away from another milestone of Florentine art and architecture, the Pitti Palace .
This is a great place to linger over a coffee with a friend or just to go and taste a new coffee flavour while plugging your laptop. This place serves a nice selection of tea infusions and cappuccino with almond milk, foamed to perfection (al bacio, in Italian). This is the place where you come to taste the selection of precious coffee blends sourced from local producers and brewed in the Tuscan neighbourhood, here you come also for a quite endless selection of gin!
The menu varies from season to season of course also according to the market daily offer and it is under the care of Chef Arturo Dori, featuring a good mix of tradition and ethnic innovation. We went there for brunch last time, few days ago and although we only ordered scrambled eggs, they were so delicious and fresh that it was the highlight of the day.
Another reason for me to like Ditta Artigianale is the expert use of salvaged material and the well-designed spiral staircase leading to the upper floor. The overall ambiance is very airy and pleasant.