Palazzo dell’Arte della Lana in Florence

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Palazzo dell’Arte della Lana

The Palazzo dell’Arte della Lana in Florence is located right in the heart of the historic center, between Piazza della Signoria and Piazza della Repubblica. As its name suggests, this palace was once the seat of the Arte della Lana (Wool Guild), one of the seven major arts of the guilds of arts and crafts in Florence.

The Arte della Lana in Florence

That linked to the processing of wool was one of the most important and flourishing industries of medieval Florence. We can say that the one between Florence and wool was an almost indissoluble combination. In the thirteenth century in the city there were more than 200 artisan workshop where several thousand artisans work. You may have heard of the Ciompi Riot of 1378, when the workers employed by the Wool Guild rose up asking to be able to associate in their own art and to participate in public life.

These numbers show how powerful the art of Florentine wool was. It was one of the most influential of the major arts, and for this reason it was assigned one of the oldest historical buildings in all of Florence, the tower of the Compiobbesi family.

History of the building

The Compiobbesi were a rich family originally from Compiobbi who owned numerous properties including the Castle of Compiobbi. Being a Ghibelline family, the Compiobbesi lost everything after the battle of Benevento in 1266, which marked the almost definitive defeat of the Ghibelline party. After that event, many of their properties were confiscated; in 1308 their palace, as a plaque still remembers today, was then destined to house the Art of Wool.

Also in this building, as in others that we find in Florence, there is no lack of nineteenth and twentieth century interventions in neo-medieval style. Among these is the large 16th century staircase which was rebuilt in the 19th century and decorated with Florentine coats of arms and banners. The relocation of the Tabernacle of Santa Maria della Tromba also dates back to the same century, following the demolition of the Mercato Vecchio.

Palazzo dell'Arte della Lana in Florence
Palazzo dell’Arte della Lana (Photo by FreepenguinCC BY)

Description of the Palazzo dell’Arte della Lana

This building is one of the best preserved in all of Florence and enjoys a truly enviable position, placed as it is a short distance from the Church of Orsanmichele, to which it is connected by a small arch and a walkway built in the mid-sixteenth century by Bernardo Buontalenti (today the walkway allows you to get to the museum of Orsanmichele). In those years, Cosimo I decided to dedicate the first floor of the building as a notary archive. The sixteenth-century loggia, facing south, is very distinctive compared to the original body of the building and houses impressive windows.

The Palazzo dell’Arte della Lana is rightly famous for its frescoes, which can even be admired in the shops that now occupy the ground floor of the building: here, in fact, there are some very interesting representations of wool processing, fascinating and useful for having a idea about this precious handicraft in the fourteenth century.

The frescoes on the upper floors are also for most of the fourteenth century, but slightly older, and are concentrated in particular in the Sala delle Udienze, where representations of the Madonna enthroned between angels, Virtues and Evangelists and St. Martin, St. Pancrazio, San Pietro and San Felice (or Sant’Agostino). The authors of the frescoes are today referred to as Lippo di Benivieni or the school of the Maestro del Crocifisso Corsi. The Allegory of the correct exercise of Justice is instead in the style of Ambrogio Lorenzetti.

Inside the shop at number 20 red in via Calimala there is a tabernacle with the fresco of the Madonna and Child between Saints Stephen and Philip attributed to the Master of the Bargello.

Società Dantesca Italiana

Today the palazzo of the art of wool, after several changes of ownership, houses an important national cultural institution, the Società Dantesca Italiana, dedicated to the study and promotion of knowledge of the greatest Italian poet Dante. From the Sala di Leone X in Palazzo Vecchio, the headquarters of the Company moved to the Palazzo dell’arte della lana in 1905, when it was restored by Lusini.

Inside the palace you can often attend Lecturae Dantis open to the public. The coat of arms of the Italian Dante Society can be seen today in a polychrome panel depicting Dante showing the Divine Comedy placed above the Tabernacle of Santa Maria della Tromba, another masterpiece that from its original location was relocated here during the nineteenth-century “Risanamento” and which it still contains a splendid Madonna, the work of Jacopo del Casentino.

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