Originally belonging to the Grand Duke Ferdinando II, the Palazzo Corsini sull’Arno was purchased in 1649 by Maria Maddalena Machiavelli, consort of the Marquis Filippo Corsini. In 1650 their young son Bartolomeo entrusted the architectural and decorative renovation of the complex to Alfonso Parigi the Younger, and later to Ferdinando Tacca, who worked on it up to 1671. After the death of Bartolomeo in 1685, his son and heir Filippo Corsini addressed himself with alacrity to the renovation works begun by his father. The project was entrusted to Antonio Maria Ferri, who is responsible for the definitive layout of the Palazzo in three structural units arranged around a central courtyard, in addition to the majestic staircase, the splendid rooms on the first floor and the enchanting Nymphaeum. In this residence with its essentially sixteenth-century layout and restrained Baroque flavour, Ferri lavished all his eclectic flair, inventing magnificently scenographic, elegant and luminous settings of an eighteenth-century flavour which was decidedly unusual for a city such as Florence. The Salone del Trono (Throne Room), no less than 320 square metres, created by Ferri between 1694 and 1696, dazzlingly white in its exquisite architectural composition, aroused stunned amazement upon its inauguration and continued to be one of the most ardently admired sites in Florence.
Between 1692 and 1700 the artists who were entrusted by the Corsini with the decoration of the Throne Room, the Ballroom and the Galleria Aurora, that is the piano nobile or first floor of the Palazzo, were Anton Domenico Gabbiani, Alessandro Gherardini and Pier Dandini. The residence, which was not completed until 1737, also boasted an important picture gallery, the most illustrious and significant in Florence, which had been begun in 1765 by Don Lorenzo Corsini, nephew of Pope Clement XII. It comprised Italian and foreign seventeenth-century works in addition to a precious collection of paintings of the Florentine school dating to the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, arranged in accordance with the ancient criteria of decor and symmetry that characterised the private picture galleries.
The opulence of the Palazzo, in addition to the works that belong to it, is further underscored by the extraordinary double-flight staircase created by Antonio Maria Ferri in 1694, one of the most striking in Florence, adorned with imitation classical statues. Similarly marvellous is the fabulous artificial grotto, known as the grotto of the Nymphaeum, which was executed by Ferri between 1692 and 1698, together with the stucco artist Carlo Marcellini and the painters Rinaldo Botti and Alessandro Gherardini.
The stone balustrades on the top floor in late Baroque style are equally stunning, crowned with statues in stone and vases in the shape of ancient kraters in terracotta, embellishing the original void of the central part of the facade, while the terrace beneath, designed for delightful and elegant recreation, overlooks the Arno and the hills girdling Florence with a breathtaking view of the church of San Miniato al Monte, which cannot fail to impress. Thus the piano nobile is an integral element of the magnificence of this Palazzo, designed by Ferri with the Throne Room set between the Galleria Aurora and the Ballroom.
The Salone is superbly decorated with columns and pilaster strips along the walls, with undulating pedestals and cornice, with ancient statues in the upper gallery and eighteenth-century busts set above the doors and windows that overlook the main courtyard. The stately ceiling fresco is by Domenico Gabbiani, dating to 1696 and portraying the Apotheosis of the Corsini Family, hanging from which are two gigantic chandeliers made of carved wood and painted by Antonio Francesco Gonnelli, datable between 1698 and 1700.
The fresco, a distinctly late Baroque composition, is striking for its profane symbolism of tasteful freshness, designed to exalt the manifold virtues of the Corsini dynasty. A large coat of arms with crown looms above the scene from a clear blue sky dotted with clouds; in the centre Valour, Architecture and Genius together bear up the illustrious image of the Palazzo, while at lower left, seated upon a rock with a lion at his feet, is the river Arno portrayed as an old man; on the opposite side is the City of Florence, surrounded by nymphs and swans, with its most famous symbol, Brunelleschi’s cupola, proffering her hands towards the gifts of Abundance.
Adjacent to the Salone del Trono is the Galleria Aurora or the Loggetta, the first of the rooms to have its walls and ceilings decorated by Bartolomeo Neri and Alessandro Rosi between 1650 and 1653. It was in fact Rosi who was responsible for the ceiling oval showing Aurora and Apollo’s Chariot, the lunettes on the shorter sides of the Gallery portraying allegorical figures and various characters in chiaroscuro on the walls. Another distinctive feature of the Loggetta are the five arched windows overlooking the courtyard and commanding a delightful view of the hills of the Oltrarno. The Ballroom, which is also close to the Salone del Trono, although small in size is equally prestigious.
Extremely striking for the outstanding quality of the decoration – considered the most important in the entire Palazzo – is the splendid fresco adorning the ceiling, which is without doubt the masterpiece of Alessandro Gherardini, executed between 1695 and 1696. Frescoed with mythological scenes that evoke an overall sense of Olympic gaiety, it shows in the centre The Chariot of Aurora drawn by Pegasus, the mythical winged horse, preceded by a little cherub bearing a torch, the emblem of the deity. Aurora, the Dawn, sister of Sol (in Greek mythology Helios) the Sun god, is surrounded by the Hours, with one of them handing her a garland of flowers. At the sides of the main scene we have illustrations of the Kingdom of Flora, accompanied by the winged Zephyr and by several nymphs within a floral jubilation, and opposite the Dionysian Triumph of Galatea, couched softly upon a shell and drawn by dolphins ridden by cherubs. The most beautiful of the sea nymphs, Galatea was loved by the handsome shepherd Acis, and by the Cyclops Polyphemus, whom she sees before her surrounded by his flocks and accompanied by the flute on which he plays his love song. It is precisely in this splendid setting of rooms, unique in terms of its architectural features and decorative invention, that the Florence International Antiques Fair is hosted every two years.