Palazzo Buontalenti (formerly Palazzo Sozzifanti) is an interesting example of late-sixteenth century Florentine architecture. It occupies an important portion of the Canto de’ Rossi site at the edge of the first circle of city-walls. It is imposing in terms of size, but in fact is scarcely visible due to the proximity of the surrounding buildings and because it faces onto streets that do not allow it to be seen in perspective. The way the windows and doors are arranged is very particular, since they are not aligned with the reference facade. The harmonious and austere internal courtyard is characterized by two systems of arcaded galleries with a double order of columns the diameters of which decrease in such a way as to heighten the picturesque impression of soaring upwards lines.
The Palazzo’s name comes from the alleged involvement of the famous Florentine architect Bernardo Buontalenti in the building’s design phase. Archive sources reveal that the palace was not yet under construction in 1580, but three years later it appears from a letter to the Grand Duke from the Vicar of Pia Casa di Sapienza (the institution founded by Niccolò Forteguerri in 1473 that promoted humanistic professorships) that the Council had been shown a “design by the excellent architect Bernardo Buontalenti which greatly pleased all the councillors and also me”. As we know, Buontalenti was the trusted architect of the Grand Duke of Tuscany, to whom the Pia Casa di Sapienza was answerable. The construction of the noble residence, which formally passed via this institution, was in fact conceived as the Pistoian residence of the Grand Duke. It is no coincidence that the real client was the Pratica Segreta, the judiciary serving the Grand Duke.
Just three years after its construction, the Palazzo was sold to Ottavio and Giulio di Bartolomeo Sozzifanti, an evidently rich and up-and-coming family who, in all likelihood, sided with the Grand Duke, who had even had an elevated passage built on the Vicolo dei Pedoni side of the building, in order to reach the church of San Biagio without having to go down into the streets.
When, in the first half of the nineteenth century, the Palazzo was split into two separate properties, it became clear that already in its design phase the idea was to produce a building with a unified external layout but originally conceived as a double residence, one of which was of course meant to be the Grand Duke’s. Here, too, in the course of the works by the experts charged with dividing the building, Buontalenti’s name emerges again as being its original designer. It should also be remembered that, in the period when the Palazzo was being constructed, the architect was in the city working on the fortifications of Santa Barbara; all these elements lead to the conclusion that Buontalenti’s involvement in this work is highly plausible. The family had long ceased to occupy Palazzo Buontalenti, and over the years it had been used for various other purposes before the recent restoration. Among its most recent uses was as the Liens Section of the former Cassa di Risparmio di Pistoia e Pescia.
The Palazzo’s piano nobile houses a splendid room where the paintings by the Pistoian painter Giacinto Gimignani from the Fondazione Caript collection are hung together. This artist, who was active through the middle decades of the seventeenth century, was well respected and received numerous and important commissions in his time, in particular from the Roman aristocracy. As is widely known and documented, his true protectors were a family of fellow Pistoians, the Rospigliosis, and in particular Cardinal Giulio Rospigliosi, who later became Pope Clement IX (1667-1669).
Giacinto Gimignani was the son of artist Alessio Gimignani (1567-1651), a highly sought-after painter in the local area. He completed his apprenticeship in his father’s Pistoia workshop.
The first documentation regarding his painting activity dates back to the early sixteen-thirties, when he had already moved to Rome and had met the artist Pietro da Cortona and the powerful Barberini family. Gimignani’s introduction to this prestigious environment was instigated and facilitated by his friendship with two influential Pistoian figures: the scholar Francesco Bracciolini and the prelate Giulio Rospigliosi.
As a lover of the arts in contact with the greatest artists of his time – Pietro da Cortona, Nicolas Poussin, Claude Lorrain, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Carlo Maratta – Monsignor Rospigliosi always evinced a particular protective relationship with regard to his fellow Pistoian Gimignani. After an initial phase in which he closely adhered to Cortona’s style, Giacinto evolved towards the Bolognese classicist trends of Domenichino and of Guido Reni and the French style of Poussin. By 1634, he had already set up home in the parish of San Nicola in Arcione, an area packed with French nationals where Poussin himself had lived a short time earlier. In 1641, he moved to a house in Via Sistina, which remained his Roman residence until his death. His painting in those years is marked by a refined classicism that reflects his assiduous study of antiquity.
In 1644, when the Barberini court came to an end on the death of Urban VIII, Gimignani approached the Pamphilj family, and worked on their palazzo in Piazza Navona (Sala delle donne illustri, 1648 and Sala delle Storie Romane) and on the suburban ‘Bel Respiro’ villa located on the Janiculum. In 1652, Gimignani moved to Florence, where he had the support of the Grand Dukes (in particular of Prince Mattias); he was employed in the Arazzeria Medicea tapestry factory and also by the local Niccolini family. His most important clients, however, were the Rospigliosis, for whom he painted twenty-six paintings between 1652 and 1656, destined for the Pistoian palazzo of Ripa del Sale. In 1661 he returned to Rome; where Gian Lorenzo Bernini employed him in some of the works being carried out by the Chigi family in the Castel Gandolfo, Ariccia and Galloro districts of Castelli Romani. Under the pontificate of his long-time protector the commissions he received from the Benedictine orders in Umbria took precedence, fostered by the entry of three of his eight children to these monasteries. His most well-known work is Cena in Emmaus in the refectory of the convent of San Carlo, a large model of which is owned by the Fondazione Caript. Gimignani died in 1681 and, after solemn tributes attended by the Academicians of San Luca, was buried in the church of Sant’Andrea delle Fratte in Rome.