Palazzo Davanzati is one of those unique locations in Florence that allows visitors to take a step into the past. Its architecture, furniture, and design blend the transitional years between the medieval and renaissance periods in Italy. Fans of history and architecture can admire the collection in a palace that is hundreds of years old.
Palazzo Davanzati was originally owned by the Davizzi family, who were wealthy wool merchants in the 14th century. It changed hands a couple of times, but by 1578, it was sold to the Davanzati family. They held the palace for several generations. Unfortunately, they lost the palace in 1838 after the tragic death of Carlo Davanzati, their sole heir. The palace was separated into quarters and left mostly unattended until Elia Volpi acquired them in 1904.
Elia filled the palace with his approximation of a medieval home and opened it as a museum in 1910. He was an antique dealer and he used his showings to sell his findings to local buyers. So, the palace had a bit of a revolving door when it came to its pieces. Eventually, he sold the palace in its entirety to a few other antique dealers. Finally, in 1951, it was purchased by the Italian state and opened as a public museum. The restoration process since then has been decades long. It wasn’t until 2012 that visitors could see all floors of the palace.
What to see at Davanzati
Today, the collection at the Palazzo Davanzati includes items from as early as the 13th century and as late as the 20th century. Most of the antiques display that earlier mentioned blend of medieval and renaissance. Visitors can get a real sense of what it may have been like for a merchant family like the Davanzati. There are also several curiosities and interesting design choices.
The palace includes three towers, combined to form one home. The center is a courtyard that stretches upwards and includes loggias. This open space has been used as a market. As mentioned, many of the people who lived in the places were merchants. So, they could conduct business in their own home.
They could also look down from the higher floors to catch unwanted visitors. There are even secret shoots to handle such people. Owners of the home could send down heavy balls or hot liquids down the shoots to attack them from above.
Another significant architectural component is the kitchen. It is another open space on the top floor of the palace. This helped keep the heat from touching the other floors. It was also a precaution against danger. The top floor had wooden staircases, unlike the marble on the other floors. So, if there was ever an invasion, people could escape to the top of the building and knock out the staircases so no one could get them. It also made the other floors safe in case of a fire in the kitchen.
Besides these practical additions, Palazzo Davanzati features beautifully designed rooms. There are two rooms named after colorful birds. One is the room of parrots and the other is the room of peacocks. Both have colorful patterns of birds all around the room. They are unique and ornate designs.
One of the rooms tells the story of Chatelaine of Virgy. In the story, a Duchess calls a knight to her home when her husband is away on a hunt. Her attempts to seduce him are thwarted once she realizes that he is in love with someone else.
Jealous and proud, she tells her husband that the knight tried to seduce her. Before he can be executed, the knight makes a deal with the Duke. He plans to pretend to be in love with the Duchess while the Duke secretly watches to see how she reacts. The Duchess’ true feelings are revealed to the Duke and the knight is set free.
Yet, the Duchess isn’t punished. She manages to convince the Duke to forgive her and tell her who the knight is in love with. Then, wickedly, she reveals to the public that the knight and Chatelaine are in a love affair.
In her shame, the Chatelaine commits suicide and in his grief, the knight follows suit. The Duchess is then killed by the Duke for her cruelty. All of this is shown on the walls of the room, each a different painted scene.
If you would like to see these rooms in person and step into the past, you may join one of our tours. Each tour is led by a certified tour guide who can give you valuable information about everything you can see within the beautiful, antique palace.