Sunday, 8 May 2022

Anglo-American Florence since the mid 19th Century

Not everyone realises just how small Florence was in the mid-19th Century compared with today. The city walls were still intact. The latter weren't demolished until between 1865 and 1871 when Florence was provisional capital of Italy. I recently came across a provincial map dating from 1841. To the NE, Florence more or less ended just behind the railway station!

Florence in 1841
Florence in 1841

During the second half of the 19th century, a third of the population of Florence was made up of foreigners, the majority of them from England and America - the Anglo-American Florentines - along with numerous Germans, French and Russians. The English foreign colony between 1850 and 1930 included the poet Walter Savage Landor, Robert and Elizabeth Browning with their literary salon in Casa Guidi on Via Maggio, George Nassau, the third Earl Cowper, the countess of Orford, Lady Sybil Cutting (the mother of Iris Origo) at Villa Medici, Longworth Powers, Janet Ross, Norman Douglas, Vernon Lee, Bernard Berenson at Villa I Tatti and many, many others. The last direct connections to the last of the Anglo-American Florentines was probably Sir Harold Acton (1904 - 1994) whose father moved into Villa La Pietra in 1903, or perhaps Harry Brewster who passed away in 1999.

Aside from those who made Florence their home, there was a constant stream of illustrious visitors who came to stay for months at a time. In 1869, Henry James made his first visit to the city that became one of his favorites and one of the settings for his wonderful novel, The Portrait of a Lady.

Since that time, the city has spread out across the flood plain of the Arno, virtually swallowing up Prato and, no doubt soon, Pistoia to the NE, and with hardly a patch of green separating its outskirts from Signa and Lastra d Signa.

Florence in 2022
Florence in 2022

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