Florence is well known and admired for being the “Cradle of the Renaissance”, visitors cannot help but place their sights on the various monuments, squares, and art galleries that attest to a glorious past. Nevertheless, there is also another Florence that can be visited and known. It is a modern city that in the 1900s was undoubtedly a center of culture and artistic and cultural experiments. Even architecture, with significant examples of Art Nouveau, or Liberty style as it was called in Italy, has helped make the city one of the protagonists of that great twentieth-century season.
You can start discovering this period, from the place that became the meeting point for the whole heterogeneous company of Florentine, Tuscan and foreign intellectuals and artists in the first decades of the twentieth century. In Piazza della Repubblica, the great space created by the demolition of old buildings when Florence became capital in 1865. Later on, the square became the fulcrum of every “worldly” activity in line with the times.
Many gathering places were born and the city was enriched with new experiences and initiatives, some of which found their birth in a venue in Piazza della Repubblica: Giubbe Rosse. The strange name had nothing to do with the Canadian horse guards, but simply comes from the fact that the waiters’ jackets were of that color. It was the gathering place of a group of friends who did not always agree on things, but gave birth to one of the major avant-garde movements of the 1900s: Futurism. Soffici, Rosai, Carrà, writers and intellectuals organized a great adventure that for the founder Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wanted to revolutionize the world.
The car and speed, industry and the vibrant and dynamic city that the painter Boccioni painted in one of his famous canvases. Around this nucleus, the magazine La Voce, edited by Vallecchi, a publisher who linked the beginning of his publishing house to this movement, saw the light. Soon there were incendiary articles being published, of news that increasingly took on more intransigent tones. Under the guidance of Ardengo Soffici, the new suggestions that shook the art world were spread to Florence.
From Paris, every painter’s coveted destination, Braque and Picasso’s cubism, and Duchamp’s first experiments, were presented to Italy by La Voce. Thus, becoming a point of reference for any avant-garde or artistic modernism. Giubbe Rosse, thanks to the documents shown in the venue, presents that great season that wanted to make modern a culture and society trenched behind old schemes and that was unfortunately interrupted by the First World War, degenerating, after it, in arrogant and despotic solutions. Futuristic Theater, the mythical futuristic dinners, in which ladies wore clothes designed by Balla with color inserts, without any constraint or rules. Cars, industries, and communication channels, this way Florence, beyond the beautiful and historical center, could span in new neighborhoods designed by architects experimenting with new styles.
Many claim that there are few Liberty, or better, Art Nouveau buildings in Florence, yet if you want to see some examples of this architecture, there is certainly one of the most beautiful and significant examples in the city. In Borgo Ognissanti, not far from Piazza della Repubblica is the magnificent building designed by the architect Michelazzi, a wonderful example of the Art Nouveau style that was prevailing in the great European capitals. The house develops in height with important distinctive signs: floral decorations, the trend of curved lines, up to the use of different materials such as crystals and metal. Curious symbols are the great dragons that hold the lamps for lighting. The ground floor and the first floor were conceived as shops while the other floors were the residence of the architect’s family.
In Via Brunelleschi one can find Palazzo Pola e Todescan, those who built in Florence the first commercial galleries, following the example of London with Selfridge and Paris with Lafayette and Bon Marchè. Other examples can be found in Via Ammirato near piazza Beccaria. Still by the architect Michelazzi there is Villino Caraceni, which follows the style already described before, such as the decorative use of metal and dragons as symbols of house protection, with ceramics and sinuous lines of decorations and windows that characterize the style. A journey that can show another perspective of Florence, which became part of the history of the great international artistic and cultural movements of the twentieth century.