Palazzo Guadagni

With its characteristic top-floor loggia and tear-drop style portal, Palazzo Guadagni is one of the landmark homes of the Florentine Renaissance, although it has undergone many changes in the subsequent five centuries since it was first built. Its foundations were laid on the site of even older residences owned by the Dei family when, around 1502, Rinieri di Bernardo Dei, a wealthy silk manufacturer, asked the architect known as Il Cronaca to undertake the project. These were the years of the anti-Medicean government of Piero Soderini, and Il Cronaca was strongly associated with this political stance, having built the Sala del Cinquecento at Palazzo Vecchio and having worked on Palazzo Strozzi.

The Dei family were great patrons of art in the years when the Medici were in exile from Florence: they collected over 200 pieces of art, they commissioned Andrea del Sarto to decorate the exterior of the residence with "graffito" images, and they asked Raphael of Urbino to make the altarpiece for their chapel in the nearby church of Santo Spirito (when Raphael did not finish it, Andrea del Sarto was asked to make another one). Their symbols, the iris and the round shield, can still be seen carved in the original wooden doors of the building entrance facing the piazza. While it certainly was the largest and most dominant home in the Santo Spirito neighborhood (a neighborhood of immigrants and artisans) when it was built, it does not compare to the ostentation of the earlier palaces of the Medici, Strozzi and Gondi, having only one story faced in stone ( the rest are brick and plaster) and being made up of four compressed stories rather than three princely-dimensioned ones.

The last of the Dei family, with no more heirs to pass the home to, left it to a charitable Florentine foundation, the Buonuomini di San Martino, who promptly sold the home at auction in 1683 in order to raise cash to help the poor. This sale is how the home came into the hands of the Guadagni, whose name is now given to the palazzo. Two centuries later, a daughter of the Guadagni line married the Marchese Doufour Berte, and the descendants of this union remain the owners of the building to this day. Curiously, the Guadagni family, whose symbol is a red shield emblazoned with a gold cross, can also be associated with anti-Medicean leanings if one looks to their ancient history. In 1443, Bernardo Guadagni, Gonfaloniere of Florence, sent Cosimo de' Medici into exile because of his tyrannical monopoly of power. Ironically though, when the Guadagni returned to Florence after having been exiled themselves, they were eager to ingratiate themselves with the Medici court. Upon purchasing the former palazzo of the Dei at auction, they also found themselves in possession of the Dei family altarpiece by Andrea del Sarto, a painter highly sought after by the Medici grand dukes. Apparently they gave the painting to the Medici, and in exchange, the Medici gave them a share of the spring water brought via acqueduct to Palazzo Pitti, an honor noted in a plaque on the fountain that is still in the buiilding's principal courtyard.

(Sheila Barker)