Villa Palmieri, Fiesole
Villa Palmieri is a patrician villa in the Fiesole, central Italy, that overlooks Florence. The villa's gardens on slopes below the piazza S. Domenico of Fiesole are credited with being the paradisal setting for the frame story of Boccaccio's Decameron.
The villa was certainly in existence at the end of the 14th century, when it was a possession of the Fini, who sold it in 1454 to the noted humanist scholar Marco Palmieri, whose name it still bears. In 1697, Palmiero Palmieri commenced a restructuring of the gardens, sweeping away all vestiges of the earlier garden to create a south-facing terrace, an arcaded loggia of five bays and the symmetrically paired curved stairs (a tenaglia) that lead to the lemon garden in the lower level. The often-photographed lemon garden survives, though postwar renovation stripped the baroque decors from the villa's stuccoed façade.
Boccaccio's description of the villa in Fiesole where his young people retreated from the Black Death raging in Florence to tell stories is too general to identify any one villa securely:
In 1760, when Florence had developed a considerable English community, the villa was acquired by the 3rd Earl Cowper. Alexandre Dumas, père spent some time there, and collected his Florentine travel essays under the title La Villa Palmieri (Paris, 1843). In 1873 it was purchased by James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford who recreated part of the grounds in the fashionable English naturalistic landscape manner of parkland dotted with specimen trees, but provided also with the exotic tender plants that could not be grown in the open in England. His commissions included also the scenic basin of the Fountain of Three Faces and a little chapel in neo-Baroque manner to one side of the villa.
"Unlike the Gamberaia, " Georgina Masson observed, "Villa Palmieri has suffered from having been a 'show-place' and the alterations of many owners to suit the fashions of their day, so that little of its original character remains." Today the oldest remaining parts of Villa Palmieri are the oval geometric garden of lemons which are set out in warm weather ranged round the central circular basin, itself framed in quadrant spandrels, all framed in clipped low boxwood hedging, following an eighteenth-century engraving of this garden space by Giuseppe Zocchi. The upper terrace is supported on the vaults of the limonaia, glazed in the nineteenth century, where the lemon trees were protected from the very occasional hard frost. Some labels on trees record three visits of Queen Victoria to Villa Palmieri, in 1888, 1893 and 1894.
The Villetta, an outbuilding formerly part of the extensive Villa Palmieri grounds, was purchased in 1927 by Myron Taylor, the American ambassador to the Holy see, who recreated a Beaux-Arts version of an Italian terraced garden and named it Villa Schifanoia. This portion is erroneous. (The author(s) here, as in so many articles, have confused the Villa Palmieri with the Villa Schifanoia, which is also located on via Boccaccio. The Villa Schifanoia is at 123 via Boccaccio, which is significantly farther up the street from the Villa Palmieri, a large portion of which can be seen from that road. As for the "Villetta" this is a general word meaning "little villa": it is possible for every villa to have a villetta, perhaps there is one also at the Villa Palmieri, and it is perhaps of admirable design.. The one at the Villa Schifanoia is of no architectural distinction, although it made a good set of artists;' studios when the Rosary Graduate School of Art was in residence there.) The relations of the Villa and the Villetta in an earlier day are represented in the landscape background of Botticini's Assumption of the Virgin painted for Matteo Palmieri and unfinished at his death in 1475.
- Villa Schifanoia
- Giardini di Toscana, a cura della Regione Toscana, (Florence: Edifir) 2001.
- Masson, Georgina, Italian Gardens.
- Wharton, Edith, Italian Villas and their Gardens.