Audioguide of the Villa medicea La Magia


1. The Italian garden

Welcome to the monumental complex of Villa Medicea La Magia in Quarrata. In 2013, it was recognised by UNESCO as part of the World Heritage site “Medici Villas and Gardens in Tuscany”, which entails 14 villas and gardens once belonging to the Medici family in the Region of Tuscany, all excellent examples of aristocratic country villas designed for leisure, the arts and learning.

By flanking the lemon house to the west, you enter the elegant Italian garden. Built by the Attavanti family in the early 18th century, it offers a beautiful panoramic view of the Montalbano hills. The flowerbeds were once bordered by boxwood hedges, but today a large collection of rose species grow there, interspersed with lemon trees which still stand on their original 18th-century bases. At the centre of the garden is the elegant fountain built between 1715 and 1716, and behind it a special tree. It is a Sophora Japonica, or Japanese pagoda tree, chosen for its dense cascading curtain of foliage, which allowed 19th-century ladies to use it as a modern dressing room when they wanted to cool off in the pool. The other lemon house, which still retains its original function, closes off the eastern end of the garden. On the outermost part of the two lemon houses is a work worth noting by Maurizio Nannucci. Part of the permanent collection of contemporary art at the Villa Medicea La Magia, it is an “Archetype”, a work that identifies the space of the garden, both for those looking from within it and those who see it from the outside. The elegant 19th-century staircase, originally flanked by rows of fruit trees, takes you past the magnificent magnolias to face the facade of the villa.

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2. The history of the villa, from the Panciatichi to the Amati Cellesi families

To your right are the three sculptures of newts that adorned the fountain of the inner courtyard. These three sculptures from 1711 are by Paolo Monaccorti, who became the Attavanti family’s preferred sculptor. 

To your right are the three sculptures of newts that adorned the fountain of the inner courtyard. These three sculptures from 1711 are by Paolo Monaccorti, who became the Attavanti family’s preferred sculptor.
The architectural structure is typical of the Renaissance, a square base built around an inner courtyard. The villa’s original core was that of a tower-house for surveillance over the road and territory. Dating back to about 1335, it was built by the Panciatichi family who owned these lands at the time. The structure was then expanded and turned into a villa that still retains its original shape.
In 1584, the Panciatichi were forced to auction off the entire property. It was then purchased by Francesco I De’ Medici, at that time the Grand Duke. It was the last in a group of Medici villas in the land around Barco Reale, and an evocative perimeter wall was built to contain an exclusive hunting reserve. The Medici had an artificial lake built in the outer part of the park where the fountain by Daniel Buren stands today, in addition to building the dovecote designed by the court architect, Bernardo Buontalenti.
Under the Medici family the villa was given the appearance of a Medici Villa like the others: white plaster and pietra serena framing doors and windows, making it immediately recognisable, showing that the Medici power and protection reached these lands. Later, in 1645, the Villa became the property of the Attavanti family of Castelfiorentino. They carried out major renovations, created the parterre garden and the series of frescoes inside. Between 1752 and 1766, the property passed to the Ricasoli Counts, who extended the western lemon house, doubling its volume.
The Amati family took over from the Ricasoli Counts. In 1863, after about a century, they were left without heirs and sold the villa to the Cellesi family with the obligation to add Cellesi to the Amati surname. Countess Marcella Pagnani Amati Cellesi, the last heir, lived in the villa until 2002. Inside the Villa, some of the Countess’ rooms have been left as they were with her personal belongings, including books, travel magazines and pianos. With the acquisition of the villa by the Municipality, the work to restore the entire property began, along with the project Genius Loci (The spirit of the place), where contemporary artists were invited to stay at the complex in order to create permanent works designed exclusively for La Magia.

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3. The works of Corneli and Nagasawa

In the garden behind the eastern lemon house are two works of contemporary art.

On the wall is “Micat in vertice” (Shines on Top) of 2005 by Fabrizio Corneli. A series of metal elements attached to the wall create shadows that form the title of the work and that are visible only in the evening when the attic lights are turned on.
On the lawn you can admire the 2008 “Giardino rovesciato [Reversed Garden]” by Hidetoshi Nagasawa, Japanese architect and sculptor. The work is composed of two opposing C-shaped walls that create a sort of small labyrinth. The Japanese artist paid homage to the land using typical materials from the area, such as Alberese stone and Impruneta terracotta. The space created in the centre recalls the shape of a boat, a very important element in the artist’s life story. In fact, Nagasawa himself remembered living in a rice paddy as a child, and a boat was always tied to the ceiling of the house, ready to be lowered when the rice paddy flooded. On entering the work you find a pomegranate tree, chosen by the artist because it was the same age. Nagasawa died in 2018 and somehow this tree continues to carry forward his memory.

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4. The original entrance and the English garden

You are in front of what was once the original entrance to the villa. The ladies and gentlemen would come up the driveway to the front door and directly into the villa in their carriages.

Above you can see a plaque recalling a very important historical event: in 1536, Emperor Charles V came to visit. He was returning from Africa and stopped in Florence to broker the marriage between his daughter Marguerite of Austria and Alessandro de’ Medici. After a hunting trip in Barco Reale, the emperor was invited to the villa and, getting off his horse, asked for a drink. The emperor was given a copper bucket and drank with his own hand. From then on, the bucket was called the “Emperor’s bucket” and is in a niche in the wall of one of the rooms inside the villa. Behind you is the English garden, or romantic garden, created in the 19th century by the Amati family.
Here we find the cave for rainwater collection and a statue by Paolo Monaccorti. It has unfortunately lost its features and is no longer recognisable, but is thought to be Diana, Goddess of the Hunt, a figure much loved by the Attavanti family. Nearby is something unique, a 2007 work by Marco Bagnoli titled “Ascolta il flauto di cana” (Listen to the reed flute). It is an aluminium rod, originally red, which uniquely fishes water from the bottom, takes it to the top and lets it drip down the outside of the reed. As you can see, the process fosters encrustations and mosses. This continuous cycle of flowing water is transforming the flute by merging it with nature and causing it to lose its artificial essence. Walking on in the English garden you come to a rectangular lawn surrounded by flowerbeds. Note the referee’s chair: it was a Badminton court, and today is still called a tennis court. At the centre of the court are two other works of contemporary art, two fragrance burners made by spouses Anne and Patrick Poirier. In 2006, the artists installed these forms made with Impruneta terracotta. They were then filled with dried flowers and skins of lemons from the villa, and once lit they filled the air with a wonderful scent that characterises the villa even to those who are far away. Just above the tennis court you can see the neo-Gothic chapel dedicated to Saint Verdiana. The saint lived between 1182 and 1242 and belonged to the house of the Attavanti, therefore a very important saint for the family to venerate, so much so that the chapel was at first inside the villa. It was dismantled at the beginning of the 18th century to make room for the monumental staircase that leads from the entrance of the Villa to the main floor. Go beside the chapel along the path on the left and down towards the woods.

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5. Bagnoli, Poirier and Buren

Two other works of contemporary art are located near the artificial lake.

The “Banda Rossa [Red Band]” by Marco Bagnoli was installed in 2007, a colourful jetty of the typical red chosen by the artist, which leads to the centre of the lake as if to take possession of the place. On the lake shore is “La fabbrica della memoria [The Factory of Memory]” by Anne and Patrick Poirier of 2006. Going through the small triangular entrance you find a tablet engraved with a stylised brain, pointing to words written on the walls. They evoke negative meanings, while, turning your gaze back towards the entrance, you discover other words with a positive value. Now go up towards the villa and skirt it on the north side back towards the entrance gate. From here you can see in the outdoor park the work “Muri fontane a 3 colori per un esagono [3 colour fountain walls for a hexagon]” created specifically for the place by Daniel Buren in 2011. This work invites you to sit on the edges of the small hexagonal pool at the centre. From here you can observe the surrounding landscape through the spaces between the six fountain walls. Notice how some landscape views are framed, allowing you to focus on certain details while still being able to see the entire landscape.

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1. Historical notes, the frescoes by the Giusti brothers and the collection of filet crochet work

The first core of the villa, dating back to about 1335, was built by the Panciatichi family and was a castrum, a tower-house for surveillance of the road and territory. The structure was then expanded and transformed into a villa which still retains its original exterior shape.

In 1584, the Panciatichi fell upon hard times financially and were forced to auction off the entire property. It was then purchased by Grand Duke Francesco I De’ Medici. He modernised the villa, built an artificial lake in the outer part of the grounds, and built the dovecote after a design by the court architect Bernardo Buontalenti. Later, in 1645, the Villa became the property of the Attavanti family of Castelfiorentino. This family carried out major renovations on the interior, created the parterre garden, as well as the series of frescoes on the main floor. Between 1752 and 1766, the property passed to the Ricasoli Counts, who extended the western limonaia or lemon house, almost doubling its volume. The Amati family then took over, and in 1863, with no heirs to their name, they sold the property to the Cellesi family with the obligation to add Cellesi to the Amati surname.
The last countess, Marcella Pagnani Amati Cellesi, lived in the villa until 2002. Some of the rooms inside have been left as they were, with the countess’ personal items. Most striking are her books, travel magazines and pianos. With the acquisition of the villa by the Municipality, the work to restore the entire property began, and the permanent collection of contemporary art of Magia took shape. Entering the first room, called the billiard room, you come across the first series of frescoes.
These four caprices by the brothers Jacopo and Felice Giusti, made between 1694 and 1696, open up the walls with invented landscapes and very light vivid colours to make the room airier. Continuing on into the corridor, you can see the collection of filet crochet artefacts.
At the end of the 19th century, Countess Gabriella Rasponi Spalletti opened the filet school in Lucciano, a ward of Quarrata. The Countess understood the importance of teaching peasants a trade and set up an artisan workshop that was destined to become, during the early 20th century, a veritable manufacturers, exporting filet products all over the world. In the following rooms you can see some work tools and admire the clothing, stoles and hats made with this technique.

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2. The inner courtyard and the work by Nannucci

You are in the inner courtyard, exactly at the centre of the villa, where the central fountain with the statue of the shepherd boy stands. It is interesting to note how the fountain lines up with the fountain in the Italian garden.

The southern and western walls still have rounded arches and columns with Ionic capitals. Once these were two colonnades that gave greater prominence to the entire courtyard, but were then walled up to create new interior rooms, such as the archive and library.
Looking up you can see the 2009 work Anthology two by Maurizio Nannucci, four writings in Murano glass with neon light. The artist intended it to be a reflection on the connection between colour, light, sound and place, between art and reality. Placed at the highest limit of the walls, almost like a boundary between the courtyard space and the sky space, they transport you into a new dimension of the space itself. Again in 2009, for Quarrata, Maurizio Nannucci created “Something Happened”, a large temporary installation located in the countryside in front of Villa Magia. The majestic writing strives to recount that in the past something had happened and left a trace: the beauty of the landscape. Walking through the door on the south side, you enter the Countess’ sitting room.

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3. The Countess’ rooms

This is one of the rooms in which Countess Marcella Pagnani Amati Cellesi lived until the early 2000s. Notice how everything has been left as it was.

In this small room you can admire the collection of prints by Zocchi from 1744. There are portrayals of all the Medici villas and some wonderful places in Tuscany. At the bottom right, near the door overlooking the courtyard, there is also our Villa La Magia. Note the dovecote designed by Buontalenti and the Italian garden already complete but without the two limonaie or lemon houses. On the inner wall of the room is a niche holding a copper bucket and plaque recalling the visit of Emperor Charles V in 1536. Returning from Africa, Charles V had stopped in Florence and was invited to a hunting trip in Barco Reale. The emperor arrived at the villa, got down off his horse and asked for a drink. He was given that copper bucket and drank with his own hand, and from that moment on the bucket has been called the “Emperor’s Bucket”.
Passing the door, you enter the piano room. This became the main entrance when the gate overlooking the garden to the south was created. Here are two striking portraits of Ferdinand I De’ Medici and his wife Christina of Lorraine who look at each other from opposite sides of the room. The two portraits are copies of the works by Scipione Pulzone. In the centre of the room is one of the Countess’ pianos, and on the wall, a copy of one of Giusto Utens’ lunettes. Between 1599 and 1602 the artist produced a series of 17 lunettes representing all the Medici villas. Look carefully at how all the surrounding land was cultivated. The villa is shown from the south-eastern side since the main entrance was there. At the top in the background, you can recognise the artificial lake that no longer exists. In the foreground are scenes of deer hunting and young people playing pallacorda [a precursor of tennis without racquets] near the entrance.

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4. The monumental staircase and large frescoes in the waiting room

The monumental staircase was the first renovation carried out by the Attavanti on the interior. This elegant staircase leading to the main floor was built in place of the chapel of Santa Verdiana.

Here, the terracotta tiles by Monaccorti represent allegorical figures, framed by the stuccos by Colomba. On the ceiling is the fresco by Giovanni Bagnoli painted at the beginning of the 18th century, representing Jupiter, Juno and Minerva crushing Mars. Note the two lovers below who are taking away their weapons. So an unarmed Mars is defeated by love and wisdom, virtues represented by the other three gods. Walking through the door you find yourself in the little reception room, where guests waited to be invited to the next room. Here we find other tiles by Paolo Monaccorti, while the stucco artist Giuseppe Colomba created the broken arches above the door posts painted in imitation marble. The painting on the ceiling was entrusted to Giovanni Bagnoli in 1710, and Tommaso Gherardini frescoed the walls in 1744. On the ceiling, an imitation Baroque architecture raises the room even more. At the centre is an oval in which you can admire the myth of the Rape of Europa. The Phoenician princess is immortalised in the moment in which she is riding the white bull, but it turns out to be Jupiter who crosses the sea, kidnaps her and takes her to Crete.
On the walls, the two frescoes by Gherardini represent two different stories that mirror each other. Note how the composition of the two frescoes is specular, both constructed on a double triangle. On the left is the love between Diana and Endymion. The two love each other but she is a goddess, and therefore immortal, while Endymion is a mortal. Jupiter allows him to live forever as long as he sleeps forever, so that Diana can only come down and caress him at night, after she has taken the moon into the sky.
On the opposite wall you see Eos, princess of the dawn, who kidnaps Cephalus. Eos is in love with the young mortal but rejected by him because of his great loyalty to his wife. She challenges him, saying that if she were to turn him into another man and he courted his wife, it would be a betrayal. Cephalus is sure of his wife’s loyalty and accepts, but his wife gives in to the flattery of the stranger and Cephalus then lets himself be kidnapped. The contrite expression that Gherardini gives the young man being loaded on Eos’s chariot is wonderful.

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5. The state reception room and frescoes by Giovanni Domenico Ferretti

You are in the state reception room, the result of the renovation carried out by the Attavanti. Note the sumptuous stucco decorations with putti riding the eagle of victory and the Attavanti and Ricasoli coats-of-arms.

At the top you can see the busts of Roman emperors sculpted by Paolo Monaccorti. The paintings were made by the three artists Giuseppe Moriani, Pietro Santi Bambocci and Giovanni Domenico Ferretti. The first two painted the smaller frescoes, while Ferretti painted the ceiling and two large lateral frescoes. The works by Bambocci and Moriani portray two mothers with their children; in one is Venus and Eros captured in a moment of intimacy between mother and son, and in the other hand we recognise Diana as a child with her twin brother Apollo and mother Leto. Note how imposing and strong the figure of Leto is.
This was Ferretti’s first major commission. H he began working on the ceiling in 1714, creating an image laden with figures and symbols. The iconography shows a faunal figure representing the man/animal who looks towards the elderly man, who symbolises wisdom, good advice. The message is that man must evolve toward wisdom through the virtues personified by the female figures surrounding the group. On the lower right, a cupid destroys his weapons, indicating that there must be no war. On the wall, Ferretti illustrates two well-known myths: one is Bacchus and Ariadne, and the other, Diana punishing Actaeon. In the first, Ariadne is abandoned by Theseus on the island of Nassus after fleeing the labyrinth. She meets Bacchus and the hope of a new love is born. On the opposite side is a portrayal of the exaggerated punishment inflicted by the goddess on Actaeon for having seen her naked. The hunter is turned into a deer and will be torn to pieces by his own dogs.

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6. The New Gallery

The New Gallery is the last of the Attavanti renovations. This gallery provided a connection between the public part of the villa, or state reception room, and the private part. In fact, from the door at the end, you access the private rooms of the Attavanti.

The whole room was frescoed in 1743 by three artists, whose names are unknown, with an imitation architecture framing views of ideal landscapes. Note the presence of the classical ruins. In the early 18th century the excavations of Herculaneum had begun, and those of Pompeii shortly after, and this subject became very popular and greatly influenced the culture of the time, driving the cultural movement of Neoclassicism. The entire ceiling was also decorated with greenery but an earthquake in the early 1900s caused it to collapse and reconstruction was not possible.

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7. The permanent collection of Agenore and Alfredo Fabbri

The balcony gives access to the servants’ staircase, much narrower and plainer than the monumental staircase, and to the rooms that house the permanent collection of some works by Agenore and Alfredo Fabbri, inaugurated in 2012.

Both artists had a strong bond with Quarrata, particularly the ward of Barba where Agenore was born and Alfredo lived for a long time. The two brothers had different styles. Agenore’s sculptures are minimal symbolic forms that allowed him to express civic values and tie his works to the historical period, while Alfredo’s works are based on the more universal themes of nature and landscape portrayed with a distinctive realism and a bold colour palette.

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8. The Works of Giuseppe Gavazzi in the servants’ quarters

The fully restored servants’ quarters today house works by Giuseppe Gavazzi. It is an ideal place to showcase the terracotta heads, preparatory drawings and large sculptures in “stucco forte”, a powdered lime, marble and gypsum mixture.

In parallel to his artistic activity, Giuseppe Gavazzi had a brilliant career as a restorer of frescoes, working on pieces by Giotto, Duccio and many other great masters of the past. Throughout his artistic research, Gavazzi managed to represent a youthful humanity in awe of life, which you can see in the almost astonished expressions on all the faces. The artist’s work shows a perfectly balanced synthesis of form in the realism of the figures. The colours, which the artist often made with ancient recipes, are an integral, intimate and inimitable part of the sculptures.

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