While awaiting the ARTIGIANATO E PALAZZO event, the “GIAMBOLOGNA AND MORGAN LE FAY” initiative is now being launched, the new fund-raising drive in support of the arts and culture, directed towards private individuals and companies.
“As part of the search for places of significant cultural value that are hidden or forgotten and should be preserved and brought into the future following the guiding principle of our event, for the 2020 drive we have chosen an intriguing 16th-century complex. It is an extremely interesting example of garden architecture, somewhere between a nymphaeum and a grotto which housed within it the marble statue of Morgan Le Fay sculpted by the young Giambologna,” explain the project initiators Giorgiana Corsini and Neri Torrigiani
The goal is to reproduce the statue by hand using state-of-the-art technologies and house it in the space for which it was designed and then restore the entire “Fonte della Fata Morgana” (“Fountain of Morgan Le Fay”) complex—also known locally as the “Casina delle Fate” (“Little Fairy House”)—which was built by Bernardo Vecchietti in the second half of the 16th century inside the grounds of the Il Riposo villa, his summer home in the heart of the Chianti area in the foothills of Fattucchia in what is now the town of Bagno a Ripoli.
The building features a faux light red brick exterior which contrasts with the white Alberese ashlar-work stone that decorates the doors and windows to create a striking, fairy tale-like atmosphere. The interior flooring is a mosaic of small white and black stones which, on the threshold, form the words “Fata Morgana” (“Morgan Le Fay”).
THE VECCHIETTI FAMILY AND IL RIPOSO VILLA
The Vecchietti family, also mentioned by Dante Alighieri (Paradiso XV, 115-117 in the Divina Commedia), was one of the oldest and most important Florentine families in the Middle Ages. City dwellers from at least the 12th century, they were part of the Guelph faction and were defeated at Montaperti.
In 1578, Bernardo Vecchietti (1514-1590)—collector and patron close to the Medici court and also the owner of the mansion of the same name in the centre of Florence—was the first benefactor in Florence of Giambologna (Douai, 1529 – Florence, 1608), at the time a young, little-known Flemish sculptor whom he hosted and introduced at the court of Francis I. A plaque at the mansion recalls the family’s role as benefactors and their support for this artist who, in the second half of the century, became the leading sculptor working in Florence.
It was to him, at the very beginning of his career, that Bernardo Vecchietti entrusted the project of the “Fonte della Fata Morgana” and its ornamentation. The artist sculpted the marble statue of “Morgan Le Fay”, which was placed inside the fountain around the year 1572. In 1768, the work was sold to an English antique dealer, at the time the director of the Uffizi Gallery, because it was considered to be of secondary value. It was transported to England in 1775 and is, today, part of a private English collection.
In 1578, Bernardo Vecchietti also entrusted to Giambologna the renovation of his mansion located on the street bearing his name in Florence. For this, the artist sculpted his Satiro porta-bandiera (Satyr standard bearer) in bronze, known as “Diavolino” (Little Devil) and today housed in the Saturn Terrace in Palazzo Vecchio.
Il Riposo Villa was built during the second half of the 16th century on the site where, as early as 1427, a “nobleman’s home” already stood. In building the villa, Bernardo Vecchietti also made changes in the surrounding countryside, perhaps drawing inspiration from the grounds of Medici villas, such as the one in Pratolino, placing in the grounds structures dedicated to worship, hunting and entertainment.
THE SMALL FOUNTAIN COMPLEX
Of particular importance among these is the “Fonte della Fata Morgana” (Fountain of Morgan Le Fay) where, surrounded by sprays of sparkling water, the Vecchietti family and guests took refuge from the heat on summer days, chatting pleasantly and remarking on the beauty of the place and the works adorning it.
Art historians expert in this period believe that Giambologna took part in planning the Riposo and the Fountain which was built between 1573 and 1574 around a spring located on the land surrounding the villa which Raffaello Borghini described in his book dating from 1584, titled Il Riposo.
The building, sitting on a small plot of land, is L-shaped and built like stage scenery with two contiguous perspectives. The entrance and the windows are faced in Alberese stone and Serena stone; the architrave gables are in rustic style ashlar-work, similar to clubs or ermine tail—some say a reference to the Vecchietti coat of arms—which give the façade an upward sweep. The flooring is a mosaic that forms the words “Fata Morgana” (Morgan Le Fay). On the left is a 16th-century tabernacle in Serena stone that contained the fresco “Gesù e la samaritana al pozzo” (Jesus and the Samaritan Woman at the Well) by Santi di Tito, now lost.
Photographer Clara Vannucci
Inside is a fountain comprised of a conch made of Serena stone, supported by a rough, zoomorphic-shaped base reminiscent of a mermaid’s tail. The water that overflows from the stone basin cascades into the hexagonal pool below, at the centre of which is the brick base of the Morgan Le Fay statue (99 x 45 x 68 cm): “a beautiful nude young woman in marble sculpted by Giambologna as she is leaving a grotto. One hand is placed delicately on her breast, the other holds a seashell from which, as she stands, the water flows like quicksilver.”
On either side of the fountain, two symmetrical doors complete the scene. Through the one on the left, a small stairway leads to the upper level with two small rooms, one of which was used as a kitchen.
The structure seems designed to create a sense of wonder and magic in the viewer, reflected in the ornamentation and architecture of the fountain, an atmosphere which is enhanced by the stunning countryside that envelops the nymphaeum in an almost dream-like ambience.
The story of the “Fonte della Fata Morgana” is a fascinating one. In fact, thanks to the fame of Morgan Le Fay as a seductive enchantress and healer, her water would seem to have the ability to rejuvenate and other miraculous powers. Others say that here they saw strange presences of young and beautiful women, nymphs and fairies who disappeared as mysteriously as they appeared.
Photographer Clara Vannucci
THE STATUE OF MORGAN LE FAY
From its sale in 1768, the statue of Morgan Le Fay continued to change hands (today it remains the property of private English collectors) until it magically reappeared at a Christie’s auction in 1989 when it was recognized by expert scholars and art historians as the lost statue of the famous nymphaeum of Giambologna and, for a short period, it returned to Florence thanks to the efforts of Patricia Wengraf Ltd. Once as part of the exhibition, Magnificenza alla corte dei Medici. Arte a Firenze alla fine del Cinquecento (Museo degli Argenti di Palazzo Pitti, 24 September 1997–6 January 1998), and again for Il Cinquecento a Firenze. Tra Michelangelo, Pontormo e Giambologna (Palazzo Strozzi, 21 September 2017–21 January 2018).
From the diary of the alchemist Friedrich von Leben
written during his voyage in Italy during the years 1779 to 1786.
I preferred to wander into the secrecy of the gardens, where in the distance I began to glimpse a small, rose-coloured house with white stone detailing, that begged to be seen more closely. As I got closer to the building, I saw appear incredibly a number of women dressed in white who invited me to enter and stand by the fountain, where these women danced around me, offering me water to drink that gushed directly from their hands. On the ground, a mosaic called the place “Morgan Le Fay”, and looking around I admired the stonework of the architraves like imposing clubs and a tabernacle which the women, who continued to dance around me, would not let me draw near.
The only thing I was allowed was to approach the fountain and the large statue over it, from there the water overflowed from a stone tub into a hexagonal basin watched over by the sorceress.
On either side, the women in white came and went through two doors, until I fainted and fell to the floor in the centre of that place. I stayed there until long after dawn, alone and convinced that I had dreamed it all. I just happened to look into the basin and I saw that my hair was darker and the wrinkles around my eyes less prominent. Exiting from the side of the building, I saw these words:
“I am she, O Reader, Morgan Le Fay,
who, being young, rejuvenates others.
Here at the Vecchietto, because I myself was old,
I became younger thanks to its fountain.”
Photographer Clara Vannucci
c/c n. 50459100000004030 dell’ASSOCIAZIONE GIARDINO CORSINI
c/o Intesa Sanpaolo Spa – Agenzia 8 / Via il Prato, Firenze
IBAN: IT09 K030 6902 9921 0000 0004 030
Memo: GIAMBOLOGNA AND MORGANA LE FAY
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By taking part in the campaign, the donors will become an active part of the history of ARTIGIANATO E PALAZZO.
The “GIAMBOLOGNA AND MORGAN LE FAY” initiative is open to all and all donations of any amount are appreciated.
Supporters will receive different rewards depending on the donations they make: invitation to the ARTIGIANATO E PALAZZO Exhibition preview cocktail, exclusive meetings, guided visits to the “Fountain of Morgana Le Fay”, to the Exhibition and to the Opificio delle Pietre Dure, straw hats hand-crafted by the companies of the “Il Cappello” consortium of Florence and inspired by Morgana Le Fay, sculptures by the artist Nicola Toffolini and a host more besides.
Once again this year, as part of the “GIAMBOLOGNA AND MORGAN LE FAY” fund-raising drive, the organizers of the ARTIGIANATO E PALAZZO event Giorgiana Corsini and Neri Torrigiani have also decided to involve a young and well-known contemporary artist who will produce ten works the proceeds from which will be donated to the fund-raising drive.
Through an initiative involving students in the sculpture course of the professor Cristian Biasci at the Accademia di Belle Arti (Academy of Fine Arts) in Florence, Nicola Toffolini will create ten one-of-a-kind pieces to be presented in a specially-produced catalogue with an introduction by Antonio Natali, former director of the Uffizi Gallery.
New works of art inspired by those of Giambologna that, over the centuries, have been removed from their home in the “Fonte della Fata Morgana” and lost. These include, in primis, the “large mask” of Medusa, originally housed in the outside niche, from which travellers could draw water; the coat of arms of the Medici family and the Toson d’Oro (Golden Fleece) of Cosimo I, Grand Duke of Tuscany; and the sun of the “trigraph” of St. Bernardine of Siena (the choice of this saint is clearly tied to the name of the patron, Bernardo Vecchietti).
“Our hope,” Giorgiana Corsini and Neri Torrigiani conclude, “is to be able to create in the original size a ‘new’ image of Medusa among those made by Toffolini—and selected by a special jury—and then put it in the place conceived for it, to welcome and refresh travellers in this corner of the Tuscan countryside.”