inside the home - filippo brunelleschi biography

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  Inside the Home  

Life in the home was turned inwards towards the courtyards,or the garden. Basically furnishing were still medieval in type but tastes had changes and there were occasional innovations. In the larger palaces the basaments and sometimes the ground floor housed the cellars for wine and oil. As in the Middle Ages, the loggiated courtyard with its entrance hall, on the ground floor, was surrounded by service premises, rooms for the servants, woodsheds. When the palace had a garden, then some of these rooms were used by members of the family. The first floor, or piano nobile, with its halls, sitting rooms, study or writing room, was dedicated to public life. Service rooms were on the upper floors, the room for the maidservants, linen rooms, bread room, cupboards (grain, fruit), loggia on the courtyard. Normally the wells were at the level of the cellars, but sometimes they had an opening in the courtyard set either in the center or in a niche in the wall (Pal. Antinori, Spinelli); water was drawn up by a pail with a rope or chain attached to a pulley. In the kitchen, the traditional wooden troughs were gradually replaced by stone sinks (which generally emptied out, uncovered, in the courtyard) and water was taken from a bucket with a faucet, hung on the wall. One room entered into another, without corridors. By the early fifteenth century the main staircase, as steep as ever, which had been external in the Middle Ages, was inside-outside, beginning in the portico of the courtyard and then entering the main part of the building; the interior staircase with vaulting was an innovation introduced around 1420.

In the Middle Ages houses as well as palaces had their walls decorated with painting, generally imitation hangings. The tradition continued in the early fifteenth century, in particular with decorations depicting figures, stories or portraits of famous men. A series of illustrious men was painted by Bicci in Palazzo Medici. And the scenes of family life in the Villa Lemmi (Botticelli) or the bacchanalia scenes in the 'La Gallina' Villa (A. Pollaiuolo) are also well known.

The Florentine house was not equipped with what might be called a dining room; the table was set up wherever was deemed best, for example, before the fireplace in winter. The diners sat on one side of the table only, and food was passed to them from the other side. The sink in pietra serena or marble was set in a niche in the wall and framed by a cornice, simple or more elaborate, which ran down to the floor or was connected to a base below (Pal. Strozzi, second floor); in the upper part, on one or more shelves, was the equipment for serving drink, pitchers and cups.

"When a new architectural ideal came into vogue in the fifteenth century, architraved fireplaces frequently replaced pavilion fireplaces in the Florentine rooms. It may have seemed to Brunelleschi and his followers that with its projection the hood broke the harmony of line that was part of that classic style they were attempting to bring back into style" (A. Schiaparelli; examples: fireplace with Medici coat of arms, Badia Fiesolana; fireplaces in Pal. Strozzi; fireplace attributed to Desiderio da Settignano, Victoria & Albert Museum, London; fireplace attributed to Giuliano da Sangallo, Pal. Gondi).

The large bedroom was used throughout the day; it contained the fireplace and the basic pieces of furniture: the bed with a more or less rich head for the bed or a canopied bed with curtains that served to isolate the bed in the single room that constituted the living quarters in the more modest dwelling; the chest or cassone (when there were not enough chests, clothing and linen could be kept in open drawers on the platform on which the bed stood), which could, during trips in particular, but otherwise as well, serve as bed, table, bench; the chamber pot; the basin on a wooden stand. "In modest dwellings, with a simple bench bed and a straw mattress covered with a quilt, clothes were hung on poles set diagonally across the corners of the room. More modest chests, which the people called arca (ark), contained clothing and linens in hemp or wild linen. But whether in the nuptial chamber of the rich family, or in the simple room of a poor married couple of the common folk, artisans, or peasants, the place of honor was reserved for the cradle" (U. Middeldorf).

The courtyard was paved in "dressed pietra serena which turns moss green in untrodden places and raises dust where it lies in the beaten path, which dampens the sound of the metal rims of the wagons /.../, which darkens when it rains and glitters with crystal flecks in the sun" (P. Sanpaolesi). The floor of the rooms was generally brick, known as mezzane, of which Alberti describes the placement in parallel lines or in a circle or a herringbone pattern. "Red terra cotta, not the kind one sees today, of a dull tone, machine polished even in the most noble halls of Palazzo Vecchio, but a finely made compact terra cotta, which had been fired long and had taken on a deep hue, not cut with machines but molded by hand" (P. Sanpaolesi).

The ceilings on the ground-floor were mostly vaulted, at least in the palaces. The groin vault set on corbles was now preferred to the medieval depressed rib vault. On the upper floors the palchi or wooden ceilings were 'real', that is with the structure and secondary framework in sight, or 'apparent' (or 'dead'), that is boards hung on to the real ceiling. The frame was enriched with moldings and dentils, the center of each coffer with a large knob or a classic rosette.

Furniture too acquired more ornamentation. In the palaces it was made of walnut, carved and sculptured, in the common houses of beach, ash, cherry. Not until the sixteenth century would straw-bottomed chairs appear. The doors were in polished walnut mostly with only one framed side.

"If you will put panelling of fir or timber all around the walls" , writes Alberti, "you will make the room healthier and in winter much warmer, and the summer will not be very hot". The wall panelling, three braccia or more in height, was called spalliera, or back, because beds and other pieces of furniture were set against it. In the fifteenth century these were decorated with moldings and marquetry. Often paintings were set into the frames (for instance, episodes from Nastagio degli Onesti's novella, painted by Botticelli for a spalliera in Casa Pucci, now in the Museum of the Prado in Madrid). In the richer interiors the decorated spalliere were accompanied by sopraspalliere, that is tapestries or frescoes or additional framed paintings (which Vasari calls 'cornici' or frames). In the fifteenth century, paintings were almost always an integral part of the decoration and only rarely did they appear as isolated elements hung on the wall (perhaps as a panel frieze, set over the doorway) as seen today in museums. Paintings were part of chests, of the spalliere and the sopraspalliere. While in the fourteenth-century dwellings the only paintings were of a religious nature, in the rooms of Palazzo Medici the many paintings of sacred subjects were in the company of others, as well as statues and has reliefs, of a secular and mythological nature in line with the aesthetic taste of the day. Collecting made its first appearance and other important families followed the example of the Medici. Views of Florence are listed among the paintings in Palazzo Medici in Lorenzo the Magnificent's inventory: they were probably Brunelleschi's famous perspective panels of views of the Piazza della Signoria and of the Cathedral and the Baptistery. As the vogue for collecting developed, so did the typically Florentine artistic craft of carved frames; a novelty at the end of the century were the round frames with decorations of fruit and flowers in gilded stucco.

"...the custom started of doing inexpensive casts of the heads of those who died; and so one can see in every house in Florence, over the chimney-pieces, doors, windows, and cornices, endless examples of such portraits, so well made and natural they seem alive", wrote Vasari in his life of Verrocchio. Thanks to this practice we now have Brunelleschi's death mask (Museo dell'Opera del Duomo).

In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries movable fabrics were used to cover variuos kind of furniture. The custom of hanging tapestries to rows of hooks in the wall by means of curtain rings was still used in the fifteenth century but perhaps less than before. The door hangings called usciali and portiere were widely used.

Tapestry workshops were set up as early as the beginning of the Renaissance when Flemish workers brought in by the Florentine merchants and bankers taught local workers the technique of weaving hangings after cartoons by Florentine painters such as Botticelli.

Florentine crafts flourished in all fields: from objects of daily use to purely decorative elements. The coffer-makers were famous for their caskets, strong boxes, coffers, boxes for money, jewels, documents. Potters produced a great variety of vases, plates, jugs, basins, pitchers. Of particular renown was the dark blue and yellow-orange ware of the Medici kilns of Cafaggiolo. Objects of colored glass and crystal were also of particular note. In modest houses goblets in the dark green glass of Empoli were already in use, and they are still being made today. The straw-covered flasks came from Poggibonsi. Everyday tableware was in glazed terra cotta (see frescoes in the Oratorio dei Buonomini di San Martino).

Carpentry and cabinet work evolved considerably with furniture that was carved, sculptured and inlaid, and types already in use in the fourteenth century were further developed. Even so, important functional innovations, such as for example drawers, did not appear until the sixteenth century. The Renaissance piece of furniture was marked by an elegance of line and by its size and harmonious geometric composition, in which the elements already present in the Gothic period, such as for example the pierced rosettes in the panels, were reabsorbed and transfigured. In the field of furniture there was also an intense exchange of ideas between architecture and the minor arts. Classic cornices and membering found in architecture reappeared in furniture. For example, the cornice of the altar of S. Giovanni (attributed to Giuliano da Maiano and Francesco di Giovanni known as Francione, Museo dell'Opera del Duomo) directly echoes the model of the crowning cornice of Palazzo Medici. And on the back (spalliera) of the cupboard of the Old Sacristy in S. Lorenzo, the carved brackets in the upper part are similar to those in pietra serena in the architecture of the room.

Development of the classic style in the field of furniture led to a prevailing use of marquetry, which spread over the panels and along the frames, while carving had been preferred in the Gothic period. Apparently the inlaid surfaces corresponded to the taste for a clear linear design, as was found in architecture. Marquetry falls under four types: 1. geometric design; 2. free hand decoration; 3. perspective drawing; 4. figures of people and stories. While the first type already appeared in rare examples of Gothic marquetry (almost exclusively church furniture) the other three types were introduced in the early Renaissance.

In the field of painted furniture, artists such as Paolo Uccello and Domenico Veneziano lent their services. Of the former Vasari says "In many Florentine houses can be found a number of pictures by Uccello, all of them small, painted in perspective to decorate the sides of couches, beds, and so forth..." The latter painted chests for the wedding of Caterina Sforza. The well-known painting by Granacci, which shows Via Larga with Palazzo Medici on the occasion of the visit of Charles VIII (Uffizi) was also originally made for a piece of furniture.

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