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by Stefano Filipponi

Florentine hotels and the art of hospitality

Certainly none of women imprisoned in the Tower of the Pagliazza between the 12th and the 13th centuries could possibly have imagined that the building in which they were forcibly enclosed under such unpleasant conditions, would later become the belltower of the nearby Church of San Michele; just as the church clergy would never have thought that the the church and belltower would eventually be absorbed into a luxury hotel.

The museums, churches and palaces are not the only places in Florence to be "full of classical ancient history", for every tiny particle of this city, even places that appear to have nothing particularly unusual about them, like the markets, the hospitals and, in this case, the hotels, are also steeped in this extraordinary artistic and cultural heritage. However it is also true that most of the important reminders that have managed to survive to this day do tend to overshadow many of the artistic treasures that have been produced in Florence during the 20th century. We will therefore be making a tour of the city's hotels, starting with Hotel Brunelleschi (Piazza Santa Elisabetta, 3), in order to discover and admire some of the works of art they contain.

This hotel, constructed on the ashes of Hotel Stella Italia with the addition of the complex of the ancient church of San Michele, still boasts its beautifully preserved Liberty Salon, containing decorative stained glass carried out in various floral designs at the Galileo Chini Glassworks between 1907 and 1911.

The decorations on the walls and stained glass in Hotel Roma (Piazza Santa Maria Novella, 8), were carried out in 1928 in a similar vein of rich versatility with, in this case, the additional elegance of the Art Decò style; they were executed by Tito Chini who also designed most of the furnishings and created such a delightful environment that it was specially recommended in the Italian Touring Club's guide to Florence. Two years earlier Tito Chini also carried out the decorative windows and glass in the lounges on the ground floor of Hotel Regency (Piazza Massimo D'Azeglio, 3), using the courts of the 18th century as inspiration for his designs.

The glass-skylight over the indoor garden at the Grand Hotel in Piazza Ognissanti, carried out in the early 20th century under the direction of Ezio Giovannozzi, is characterized by its close links with the art of the late Renaissance, coupled with research into the simplified lines and forms inspired by the French Neo-traditionalism of Maurice Denis. Several areas of stained glass had to be replaced a few years ago, though the original part, illustrating an allegory of Florence holding the Grand Hotel in her lap, still dominates the centre of the ceiling.

E. Giovannozzi, Hospitality (1927-30), Hotel Excelsior

This passion for ancient allegorical subjects can again be found in the main hall of Hotel Excelsior, also carried out under the direction of Giovannozzi in 1927-30: the signs of the zodiac and the four seasons painted on the panels covering the ceiling of the hall symbolize the passing of time, while the wooden statue of a young woman in a gilded niche represents Hospitality. The glass skylight above one of the reception rooms is decorated with a still life of flowers and fruit, small and grotesque animals, which are repeated in the two frescoes on the walls where we can see Diana (the goddess of hunting) and Pomona (the goddess of plenty) surrounded by people dressed in modern clothes: the first fresco shows them about to go hunting and fishing while, in the second, they are taking part in a splendid banquet.

Denis's synthetic style was also inspired by the work of Elisabeth Chaplin; a small but precious collection of paintings by this artist can be seen inside Hotel David (Viale Michelangelo, 1). It includes oils on paper as well as landscapes and still lives in pastel carried out between 1950 and 1970, the latter part of this painter's activity.

Hotel Lungarno (Borgo San Jacopo, 14) boasts a completely different artistic atmosphere; this hotel was one of the buildings that had to be rebuilt after the entire area around the Ponte Vecchio was destroyed in 1944 and, in order to underline its "modern" character, it was furnished with a series of works of contemporary art, a choice that has in fact led to the creation of an extremely fine collection. It is principally composed of graphic works, fine documents of post-war art in Florence, by well-known artists like Antonio Bueno, Renzo Grazzini and Fernando Farulli; it also boasts several works by world famous artists like Picasso (with a drawing dated 1952), Mario Sironi, Rosai, Maccari, Marino Marini and Pericle Fazzini.

We now leave the atmosphere of the Second World War to move on to the Sixties and the collection belonging to the Hotel Minerva in Piazza Santa Maria Novella. This period marks the hotel's restoration by the architects Detti and Scarpa, who added further character to the interior with some extremely high quality furnishings. The various rooms inside the hotel contain etchings by Guttuso, Soffici, Squitieri and Emilio Greco, who also carried out the sculpture of The Bather (1960), which is in fact the most important piece in the collection.

The great bas-relief placed in the main hall of Hotel Le Due Fontane (Piazza SS. Annunziata, 14) is contemporary but antithetical in style to the work of Greco; here Alvaro Monnini, one of the founders of Classical Abstractism, tries to portray an idea of severe beauty, purposely keeping away from any figurative references.

E. Greco, The Bather (1960 c.), Grand Hotel Minerva

The two "oldest" works of art belonging to the Hotel Ambasciatori (Via L. Alamanni, 3), also date from the early Sixties; the hotel's important collection of works, assembled over the past forty years, is arranged along the corridors on various floors and in the public lounges. The entire hotel is "invaded" with examples of contemporary creativity, from the lamps by Fabio Tita at the entrance, pieces of sculpture by Vittorio Messina and Mario Ceroli, paintings by Mario Schifano and Michelangelo Tomatchio Levi; even the key-rings for the bedrooms were carried out from designs by Andrea Mizzati.

Apart from this collection, the hotel is also the seat of the "artistic ambassador" of the NSK, an ideal State, the idea of the critic Giacinto di Pierantonio; it thus confirms the cultural vocation of the Florentine hotels that not only do their best to make their guests' stay in one of the most beautiful cities in the world as enjoyable as possible but that also contain, in their turn, a truly fascinating artistic patrimony.

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