Florence and the Gardens of Tuscany
Let’s say, for starters, that there are shelves of books on the history of Florence and, in particular, on the Medici: books by Christopher Hibbert, Michael Levey, Mary McCarthy and many more. Below are my personal and somewhat quirky favorites. And a good place to start since one book leads inevitably to another.
Books, in no particular order:
A Room with a View by E. M. Forester. If you’ve never read it, you’re in for a treat. And if you’ve already read it, read it again. I am a great fan of Forester, his novels and their adaptations into film. Indeed, all his books, and this one in particular, lend themselves to movies in which little seems lost while much is gained. You will wish you were visiting the Florence of a century ago.
City of Florence by R. W. B. Lewis. Lewis was a great man of letters, my husband’s dissertation advisor, and a lover of Florence. His City of Florenceis a wonderful, personal take on the history of the city as well as a memoir of the various times he spent there. It is lovely.
Medici Money by Tim Parks. I will ready anything by Tim Parks, an Englishman who lives near Vicenza with his Italian wife and children. This is a brisk and brilliant look at early banking practices as well as the century in Florence that was shaped by the Medici.
Italian Villas and Gardens by Edith Wharton. Wharton was an avid gardener, novelist, and, coincidentally, the subject of Nancy Leszcznyski’s master’s thesis. In 1903 she was commissioned to write a series of articles on Italian villas and gardens. Of particular interest for our purposes is her chapter on Florentine gardens. Vivian Russell, in her Edith Wharton’s Italian Gardens, returns to these gardens to photograph them, nearly a century later. Both books are poignant reminders that gardens are the most fragile of artforms. If you don’t count ice sculpture J
Brunelleschi’s Dome by the excellent popularizer of history Ross King. The favorite architect of Cosimo di Medici, Brunelleschi was hard at work during the 14thc. Indeed, his buildings define in many ways the city of Florence as well as the Renaissance. But of all his buildings, nothing compares with the brilliance of the dome he designed to finally put a roof on this magnificent church—begun 1296! It is a feat of engineering that knows few equals.
Iris Origo by Caroline Moorehead. On this trip, we are not actually visiting La Foce, Origo’s villa outside Siena. However, if you’re interested in the Anglo-American scene in and around Florence at the beginning of the 20thc., this is a good read. Likewise Origo’s War in the Val D’Orcia, which documents daily life during the war years.
Light in the Piazza by Elizabeth Spencer is a lovely novella about a mother and daughter from Winston Salem, of all places, who travel to Italy where the daughter falls in love with an Italian. Is this a blessing or a curse? Also very good is the film, with Olivia de Haviland playing the mother. The book has also been adopted as a musical, which I have not seen.
In a similar vein, William Dean Howell’s Indian Summer, (1886) is a late-in-life love story set in Florence. I have just checked it out from the library and will report back. Wouldn’t it be nice to visit late-19th c. Florence!
If you want to get the succession of the Medici straight for once and for all, how about the new NetFlix series: Masters of Florence followed by the recently released The Magnificent. Errors and fictions abound, as do bosoms, daggers, and corpses. And it seems to have been filmed in every Renaissance city EXCEPT Florence. Still, it’s a very lively romp.
For a version that adheres more closely to the historical record, check out less than scintillating PBS Series Godfathers of the Renaissance. You can always watch both!
A Room with a View. Must see.
Tea with Mussolini, directed by Franco Zeffirelli and in many ways a memoir of growing up between the wars. And beautifully filmed, of course!