The ‘messages’ in Palazzo Bartonlini Salimbeni, Florence

Completed in 1532, this palazzo in Piazza Santa Trinita, Florence would give rise to controversy. In his designs, the architect Baccio d’Agnolo had shown a certain nonchalant daring; as is clear from the details of the facade, he had been more than happy to indulge the new taste for manifest echoes of the classical past.

This building thus marked the advent within the city of the “Roman” style of Renaissance architecture, a style which may have been a hybrid but was not without elegance. The great Vasari described Palazzo Bartolini Salimbeni as the “first in which one saw the windows adorned with pediments and the doorway accompanied by columns supporting an architrave, frieze and cornice“. However, characteristic features of Florentine architecture was not totally omitted; for example, the bench projecting from the bottom of the facade at street level.

Still, that facade is noteworthy primarily for its unusual decorative columns and its triangular tympana. Overall, the design was taken as an attack upon the tastes prevailing in the Florence of the day – so much so that, just as happens nowadays, there was no lack of criticism are sarcasm. Vasari also wrote that ..”This innovation would draw upon him [Baccio d’Agnolo] the censure of the Florentines, who overwhelmed him with mockery and sartirical sonnets. He was scolded for having made a temple instead of a palazzo. This sarcasm so depressed Baccio that he almost lost his wits; however, he soon passed on to other things, thinking that he was following the right one.

If he did soon “pass on to other things”, the criticism made such an impression upon the architect that he had the Latin inscription Carpere promptus quam imitari [Criticising is easier than imitating] engraved in plain view over the main doorway. And he would be proved right: his style was reassessed – and even imitated – with the advent of Mannerism!


(Adpated from Secret Florence by Niccolo Rinaldi, published by Jonglez)

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