14 April 2015

The Private Bathchamber of the Grand Duchess

a clever detail in the Grottesche ornamentation of the bath at "La Ferdinanda"

Corner of the bathchamber

Last March we ventured outside of Florence to visit the   splendid Medici Villa of Artimino known as "La Ferdinanda."   The villa was built for the Medici Duke Ferdinand I (1549-1609) as a hunting lodge and summer residence.  A World Heritage site, the estate currently hosts private events and features a winery and a hotel.

Having called ahead to explain our project and ask permission to photograph, we were warmly greeted and allowed to explore the villa and its decoration, much of which was done by the artist Domenico Passignano as well as Bernardino Poccetti.

Hidden away in a corner of the first floor,  is the “Stanzino del Poggiale” a small bathroom also called the "Ricetto del Poggiolo"  which was created for Grand Duchess Christina of Lorraine, the wife of Ferdinand I. It is completely encrusted with painted grottesca, oval landscape insets, and wild, colorful faux marble painted by Poccetti.  Closed up for hundreds of years, the room is preserved in spectacular condition.

Alison and I could hardly contain our excitement. I fumbled about with my camera.  Erling, who has long maintained that I should have my own TV show,  took a spontaneous 2 minute video with his iPhone. Which I have posted here for you.  Because you understand, don't you?

It was very difficult to photograph this tiny space (especially while hyperventilating.) Once I got a hold of myself,  I removed the giant halogen torchère from the room and inspected the charming details of the decor using only natural light, so that the true colors could best be seen. I marveled at the color palette, which alternated warm earth colors with  a cool purple and sea green.  This led to a discussion of the color of that purple, and the pigment that may have been used to make it. Is is caput mortuum?  Well not that actual "mummy brown" pigment but the hematite that makes that cardinal-robe purple.  What about that green? Malachite, of course. Sigh.

Window bay in the bath chamber- the purple borders have completely faded away

Not your usual Tuscan color scheme-- purple and seafoam green make for a cool and serene effect

Cupid and other putti on the ceiling, a later addition painted by Domenico Passignano

Passignano designed the ceiling areas with trompe l'oeil balusters and bits of sky peeking through.  Though faded, the effect is still quite convincing.   
More details:

a trompe l'oeil gold medallion with a bathing scene

lovely perspective detail with hints of gold
tiny grottesca panel over the doorway

I hope to be posting more from this beautiful villa soon.

Visit:  Villa Medicea di Artimino
photos by Lynne Rutter
video by Erling Wold
thanks always to Alison Woolley


  1. There's so much to take in here. Like you, I really like the combination of green and purple, and the light blue is a lovely mix, too. I didn't initially read the medallion as gold, but rather as a variation of grisaille, and I want to stick with that interpretation, for my own future reference. I'm also very taken by the long marble trompe l'oeil at the base of the room. Thanks for sharing the experience!

  2. Stunning! I like that you are both so excited to be there. I can see why! Thank you for sharing.

  3. Lynne, I too, am completely captivated by grottescas. When I visited the Borghese Gallery in Rome, I could barely register the Bernini sculptures and the Carvaggios, so enamored of the grottescas was I--the interstitial decorations which for most people are a charming afterthought had me in thrall. I have never found any information about them. I also love the decorations of the Villa Farnesina ceilings. Thanks so much for your Grotesque Obsession!


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