Ministero per i Beni Culturali e Ambientali
Soprintendenza per i Beni Ambientali e Architettonici
Per le Provincie di Firenze, Pistoia e Prato
Firenze – Via dei Conti n. 6
Palazzo D’Ambra as we see it now is the result of a number of more antique buildings being finally connected to each other during the second half of the XVI century.
The portion of the urban plant of which the building is part was originally called Forca di Campo Corbolini, because of the design of the streets interweaving; later on, its name changed into via del Fornaio della Forca, and – finally – via dei Conti, its present toponym.
The Palazzo sits on an area which was originally occupied by buildings of relatively modest size, probably owned by members of the Guasconi and Mancini families. After a series of changes of ownership, two of the buildings were acquired by the Strozzi family, which commissioned their re-unification and renovation to one Piero di Daniello.
During the second half of the XVI century, the D’Ambra family – which had meanwhile taken possession of the recently re-adapted building – bought some other buildings originally owned by the Cennini, Tinghi and Franchini di San Miniato families, and the Capitolo di San Lorenzo, which made the complex grow even bigger. Moreover, new architectural interventions gave the façade its distinctive late-Renaissance morphology. The Pianta di Stefano Buonsignori acknowledges the existence of a building which appears to be frankly relevant to the context of the local urban setting; the architectural complex also appears in later topographical maps, such as the 1783 Pianta Zocchi-Magnelli.
As much as the family came from a mercantile background and was originally from Siena, nonetheless the D’Ambra Dukes were an integral part of Florence aristocracy in their own right; they were in very good terms with the De’ Medici court itself, as the 1664 emblem situated of the vane on the roof testifies.
Later on, the D’Ambra family was able to enter the circle of Lorena court as well, which allowed for the lineage to increase substantially its patrimony. Such a wealthy status shows in the architectural renewals promoted by Fabio D’Ambra and his son Orazio – linked to the Feroni family via wedding – during the second half of the XVIII century: the wide area devoted to the numerous utility rooms and the Teatrino (the ‘small theatre’) on the ground floor were built, in fact, after 1750, like the outstanding decorations which embellish the ‘piano nobile’ of Palazzo D’Ambra, – some of which were created by renowned artists such as Tommaso Gherardini.
The elegance and opulence of the interiors – which we can appreciate even now in what still remains of the frescoed ceilings, in the wooden doors and window shutters artfully decorated with nice figurines and winged ‘putti’, and the fireplaces adorned with the family’s coat of arms (the amber collar) and images of flowers – testifies the relevance of the Palazzo, where receptions were held on a regular basis for Florence aristocracy.
In 1816, Maria Prudenza Feroni D’Ambra died, therefore the lineage extinguished. A letter (‘rescritto’) signed by the sovereign entrusted Giuseppe di Niccolò Luperelli with both the title and the patrimony. In 1847, though, this new male lineage extinguished as well, and the Palazzo D’Ambra was inherited by the Marquois Carlo Bargagli, husband of Giulia Caterina D’Ambra.
As a consequence of the fall of the House of Lorraine, whom the family was linked to, also the D’Ambra Dukes fell into disgrace. Many of their properties ended up being confiscated, others were sold. As for the Palazzo in via de’ Conti, it was parceled out to apartments and stores.
The old stables were rented to the “Bozzi” company, which first established the bicycle business in Florence.
At the end of the XIX century, the “Pennetti e Fattori” firm opened its music shop on the ground floor: not only did it trade in musical instruments and exclusive pianos, but also restored and renovated the old teatrino, built after 1750, re-shaping it as a cultural meeting place and salotto-caffé concerto, a cafè chantant of sorts in which people gathered to listen to music shows and bel canto. The café was very successful among intellectuals and bourgeoisie; Puccini and Mascagni were often there, along with the most famous singers of the period.
The last of the Bargaglis – Marquois Alfredo – died at the beginning of the XX century, so that the building was inherited by his dama di compagnia, his personal assistant, Rosa Brandi, whose heirs still own Palazzo D’Ambra.
The façade of the building is elegant and well-balanced, decorated by a couple of horizontal cornices that signpost each of the storeys, and two round-arched openings framed with sandstones ogival arches. A similar, relatively thin, ogival ashlar-frame also decorates the main gates and the nine windows on the façade.
The area where the household services were originally located adjoins the main Palazzo: its front is less elaborate, and shows a segmental arch which gave access to the stables. In spite of its being an integral part of Palazzo D’Ambra, this part of the building looks significantly different from it. Nonetheless, all the front rooms which lie on the ‘piano nobile’ are interconnected in such a fashion that they amount to an undivided apartment, even if the two parts of it are clearly discernible.
After entering the main portal, visitors find themselves into an elegant hall which boasts a Bohemian vault which is decorated along its edges. The family big insignia and knight emblem occupy the central area, along with the motto Semper suaves.
Many of the rooms on the ‘piano nobile’ boast finely decorated vaulted ceilings such as in an Allegoria della Musica, a Corteggio di Venere certainly influenced by the Neoclassical taste, and the monumental pavilion vaulted fresco titled Glorificazione della famiglia D’Ambra nel consesso dell’Olimpo which Tommaso Gherardini painted between 1750 and 1775. Two fireplaces – one made of yellow marble, the other in carved onyx – and the exquisitely decorated doors, overdoors and windows are also worthy of note.
On the attic-floor, decorations are also artistically remarkable: this is the case of some late XVII century lunettes with frescoes portraying Donne e cacciatori. Moreover, both a wooden portal embellished with citterns, quivers and torches, and the image of a Gorgon painted on an overdoor are – recognisably – Neoclassical pieces of art.
A fireplace made of precious statuary marble is, finally, of extreme interest too, especially because of two of its features: its architrave with low-relief carvings which portray episodes from Greek myths, and its lesenes on the sides, which are decorated with candelabra motifs inspired to Grotesque themes such as spikes, torches and feminine figures holding the family emblem.
Conclusively, we may well maintain that in spite of its troubled history, its changes of ownership and the alterations it has endured, Palazzo D’Ambra can be considered as an outstanding example of Florence architecture, where the polite appearance of the façade blends harmoniously into the fabric of the local historical centre, not to mention the noteworthy paintings and decorations which bare testimony of its glorious past.