OU QUANDO O CAPITAL
E A ARISTOCRACIA
COM A MEMÓRIA
A Spectacular Trip for a Spectacular Cause
|A SPECTACULAR TRIP FOR A SPECTACULAR CAUSEby Sharon King Hoge|
Marie Antoinette's ceiling is falling down and the American Friends of Versailles are raising funds to rescue it. Committed to helping preserve the grand palace that is an important symbol of Franco-American friendship, the AFV arranges elegant balls held in the palace and exclusive tours of European monuments linked to French history. In September, patrons and board members had the opportunity to visit Tuscany and Venice on a trip arranged and hosted byAFV board member Her Royal Highness, Princesse Béatrice de Bourbon-Siciles, Dame of Grand Cross of Justice of The Sacred Military Constantinian Order of Saint Georges.
Princess Béatrice, a descendant of the Bourbon Kings and Queens who reigned throughout Europe, literally opened palace doors for the group who were wined and dined in the private residences of some of Italy's most oldest and most prominent families.
|The underlying mission of the trip — raising funds for Versailles restoration — was never far from the minds of the participants. On private tours of notable museums led by curators and art historians as well as in rare opportunities to view private homes, gardens, and art collections not usually shared with the public, the group saw properties painstakingly restored to their original splendor which were constant reminders of the importance of supporting historic preservation.|
Magnificent ceiling paintings by the likes of Tiepolo and Tintoretto renewed the group's dedication to restoring the picture of Jupiter on a silver chariot drawn by two eagles that crowns the Guard Room, the last chamber in Marie Antoinette's suite of private rooms at Versailles.
|Arriving from Los Angeles, New York, Colorado, Paris, Washington, D.C., Chicago, Sarasota, and Paris, the participants assembled in Florence at the five star Hotel Helvetia Bristol.|
|Touring launched with a visit to Villa I Collazzi where the group was welcomed by MarchesaBona Frescobaldi, member of a prominent Florentine noble family which has been involved in the political, sociological and economic history of Tuscany since the Middle Ages. TheMarchesa served award-winning Tuscan wines from her family-owned winery, Marchesi deFrescobaldi, for which she has served as the wine ambassador. Frescobaldi family wines, dating back to 130 AD (!), have been were served at the tables of the Papal court and the English court of Henry VIII.|
|The following day the group toured the garden of Villa Capponi, residence of Signora Maria Teresa Benedetti, before a private visit to Convento di San Matteo and its owner, MarchesaGondi, a member of one of the most important families in Europe, once bankers to the Medici.A former cloister, the property was wonderfully restored by an ancestor of the Gondi family who was a well-known art dealer of the 19th century.|
|That afternoon the group toured the splendid garden of the 15th century Villa Medici in Fiesole, residence of Anna Mazzini Marchi, with a breathtaking view overlooking Florence from the property which was designed to resemble the Hanging Gardens of Babylon.|
|The next stop was at Villa della Petraia with its magnificent garden laid out over three terraces that was designed during the 16th century.|
|The AFV spent the third day in Lucca where they were received by Principessa VittoriaColonna di Stigliano at Villa Torrigiani, located in the hamlet of Camigliano. One of the most interesting examples of 17th-century architecture in the Lucchesia, the villa can be considered one of the rare examples of Baroque architecture that was inspired by the architecture of Versailles. The house's interior is richly decorated in stucco, paintings, and trompe l´oeil. A portion of the park was modified during the romantic period, but still maintains 17th-century French bassin fountains reflecting the façades.|
|The group attended a luncheon at the 15th century Villa Buonvisi Oliva which was hosted bySignora Oliva on her beautiful terrace. Originally built by Matteo Civitali, a famous Renaissance architect trained at the school of Lorenzo de Medici in Florence, the villa and its beautifully landscaped five hectares was the home of Cardinal Francesco Buonvisi, an ancestor of the Oliva family, who once boasted to Louis XIV that his stables were more beautiful than those of the newly constructed Versailles.|
|The group next visited the Villa Reale di Marlia, a late Renaissance palazzo with renowned gardens. The 15th-century Italian Renaissance villa was in the Buonvisi family from 1517 to 1651, and has been left relatively unchanged.|
|Dinner was hosted by Pietro Ermanno Meschi, longtime friend and supporter of the American Friends of Versailles, at his family's beautiful 16th-century Villa del Vescovo Meschi, built by the medieval Antelminelli family before being passed on to the Franciotti family who in the 17th century gave it its present aspect. In the beginning of the 19th century, the Villa became the summer seat of the archdiocese of Lucca assuming the name of Villa del Vescovo (Villa of the Bishop). The Meschi family has resided at the villa for more than a century.|
|The following day, the AFV group was invited as guests of Marchesi Torrigiani on a private visit to the largest privately owned garden located within city walls in all of Europe, GiardinoTorrigiani, beautifully decorated with a series of statues, Roman sarcophagi, and marble urns which were collected and commissioned by the family. Renowned in the 16th-century as a botanical garden, it had a revival during the early 19th-century when the Marquis PietroTorrigiani inherited the property and started acquiring the surrounding land. Adhering to the fashion of the time, he transformed the 25 acres into a 'romantic park' in the English style.|
|A trip to Florence would not be complete without a visit to the Boboli Gardens 111 acres behind the Pitti Palace landscaped for the enjoyment of the Medici family. Here the group was greeted at the front gate by the head gardener, Ivo Matteucci, who led a very private tour of the famous gardens, unlocking areas not normally open to the public with a large set of ancient-looking skeleton keys.|
|Dinner that evening at Palazzo Ginori was hosted by the gracious and elegant Marchese andMarchesa Ginori. An old noble Florentine family, great allies of the Medicis, the Ginoris were well-known for being merchants and bankers in the political arena since the 15th century. TheGinoris explained their family's long history as leading manufacturers of fine porcelain since the company's founding in 1737 by their ancestor Marchese Carlo Ginori. The group dined in an enormous banquet hall on exquisite Ginori plates, and each course of the meal was paired withCastello Ginori wines from the family-owned winery.|
Lunch was hosted by Principe andPrincipessa Corsini at Palazzo Corsini alPrato. The Corsini are among the most splendid of Florence's great families, combining the patrician heritage of ancient Florentine ancestry with the glory of the papacy, as Pope Clement XII was a member of the family. Palazzo Corsini al Prato remains a family palace featuring a rare example of a late urban Renaissance garden landscaped in 1624 by Gherardo Silvani who embellished thefaçade with an open gallery.
|Highlights of the final evening in Florence were cocktails and dinner at the impeccably restored Palazzo Gondi as guests of its owners, Marchese and Marchesa Gondi. Cocktails were enjoyed on the Palazzo's magnificent multi-tiered terrace that looks out over the city offering what are considered the best views of the city from a private residence. The Gondi family has long had ties to the French Crown and Versailles. Marchese Gondi explained that his ancestor,Alberto Gondi, used to own the underlying property at Versailles, which he sold to King Louis XIII. Accompanying the sumptuous meal were delicious wines from Marchesi Gondi's winery, including the Villa Bossi Chianti.|
|Departing by high speed train, the participants arrived in Venice and checked into the elegant Bauer Il Palazzo, with rooms overlooking gondoliers and vaporetta taxi boats gliding by below. After a buffet luncheon on the hotel's waterside terrace, the group walked to iconic Palazzo San Marco, a few steps away where they were greeted by Jerome FrancoisZieseniss, President of the French Committee for the Preservation of Venice who led them on a tour of the Museo Correr, the Royal Palace which, like Versailles, is in the process of constant rescue.|
Pointing to examples, Zieseniss discussed the challenging decisions he faces in resolving differing views of restoration: should deteriorating rooms be preserved intact? or should the traces of antique decor be "recreated" in modern copies of the original? In some rooms of the palace, he explained, the faded original wall covering is preserved but covered over with a modern woven-silk reproduction. Peering up at restorers on scaffolding above, AFV members were able to discern the dramatic difference as a later gray coating was delicately rubbed from ceiling panels overhead revealing the original bright white background.
|After a guided tour of Piazza San Marco which Napoleon called "the most elegant salon in Europe," the group had a brief rest in the hotel before traveling by water taxi to the Grand Canal home of "old friends" of AFV from Paris Beatrice and Pierre Rosenberg. One of the world's great art authorities, Rosenberg was Director of the Louvre before taking up residence in the Palazzo Brandolini, its spacious rooms outfitted with the couple's collection of colorful glass beads and ornaments. Moving on the group met up again with Jerome Zieseniss who welcomed them to an elaborate buffet dinner in his home Palazzo Balbi Mocenigo. Guests had the opportunity to meet some of his Venetian friends including, charming Francesca BartolottoPossati, the young woman who oversees Il Palazzo Bauer and her family's other local hotels.|
|The next morning the group scooted across the lagoon to Torcello, to tour the Cathedral of Santa Maria Assunta an early church with an original 639 AD cornerstone that predates San Marco and therefore establishes it as the site of "Venice before Venice." After admiring its amazing gold mosaics with iconography depicting salvation and the seven deadly sins, some of the group climbed its tower for a look back toward San Marco. Boarding the hundred-year-old sailboat Eolo the group cruised the lagoon before landing for a spectacular lunch created by chef and captain Mauro Spotta which was served at a long dockside table.|
|On the docket that evening was a night at the opera. Steps from Il Palazzo Bauer the newly restored, gleaming Fenice Theater was the setting for a remarkable contemporary production of Verdi's "La Traviata" with Violetta seducing suitors in a black lace peignoir before falling in love and facing her tragic end. Walking from there to Harry's Bar, the group sipped Bellini cocktails, and dined on plates of|