Florence’s historical gardens and museums: the Stibbert

If you like to explore, discover unusual corners, and walk in the beautiful greenery of a secular park with charming landscape effects, then surely you will enjoy the Stibbert garden.

Frederick Stibbert is of English origin but was born in Florence. Heir to an immense fortune and very attached to his adopted city, he ultimately chose Florence as his main residence. He was at ease with the cosmopolitan climate which flourished in Florence in the 19th century, and so it was here where he displayed his passion for exotic and noteworthy antiques, as well as his collections of ancient armor from various countries. His travels led him to collect a considerable amount of antiques, thus turning Florence into one of the world’s foremost antique locales.
Stibbert purchased the villa from the Davanzati family in 1849, making significant changes and enlarging the space, with 64 meeting rooms of 5,000 square meters set on two floors. Its enormity suggested its destiny as that of the Stibbert Museum, and it was opened to the public in 1887. Each room was a path to ancient worlds.
It’s a fairy-tale feeling, full of adventure and stories of knights, and so if you happen to visit Florence with little ones, a visit to the Stibbert museum and its park is mandatory. Parade through the halls lined with Japanese armor and Samurai, the weapons of the sixteenth century, knightly armor and “brocanterie” that has always fascinated visitors. Leaving no heirs, the museum villa was given to Florence with one clause: that Stibbert’s “treasures” would forever be accommodated and preserved at this property.
The current arrangement has rationalized the spaces and greatly emphasizes the richness and originality of the exhibits. The villa is decorated in a vaguely neo-Gothic style that achieved much success in the UK, with crenellated towers, arches, railings, and coats of arms lining the walls. Imagine the scenes in real time as you pass by deployed armies on horseback from various eras in meticulous reconstruction.
However, the rooms that most fascinate the visitor are the “Japanese” rooms.

The passion for the Empire of the Rising Sun reached a point of obsession in the second half of the 19th century. You may remember the presence of the typical stylistic elements of Japanese art in many paintings of the Impressionists, such as Monet. Fashion also influenced the art of the table with the production of “giapponeserie”, porcelain delicately adorned with Japanese-inspired scenes, which drew the precious prints of Hokusai and Hiroshige. Stibbert’s precious samurai “costumes” and everyday objects of the imperial court can be viewed in these rooms. The collection is impressive for its rarity and is certainly one of the most valuable in Italy. Annual thematic exhibitions are organized around this collection.

Eclectic and curious, Stibbert interpreted the romance of the exotic with a passion not only for the ancient empire Mikado, but also in Egyptology, or rather, Egyptomania. This taste for distant worlds, exotic, and “fairytale” was ‘in vogue’ in Europe in the second half of the 19th century.

Leaving the museum, hike through the park designed by Poggi, famous for having designed the renovation of Florence between 1865 and 1870. The green space is designed on the model of English gardens, with paths that lead towards the centerpiece of the landscape: an Egyptian temple. Structured as a tomb for the pharaohs and previously adorned with original pieces, the temple is a symbolic reminder of the Masonic lodges. In fact, Stibbert was enrolled in the Masonic Lodge Concordia, and a walk through the park can be interpreted as a journey in search of something inexplicable. From the top of the hill, descend various “steps” through degrees of knowing, going deeper and deeper into the heart of wisdom, and then return to life and light.
But perhaps it is simply a beautiful green landscape, a place of peace and culture that testifies to the boundless love that Stibbert had for Florence.

 

Translation by: Annalee Archie – Tavola del Mondo

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