Leon Battista Alberti and the prototype of a Renaissace villa

A brief introduction to Villa Medici in Fiesole

Villa Medici in Fiesole book's cover

On the occasion of the year dedicated to Alberti I decided to publish the "Tesi di laurea" on the Villa Medici in Fiesole written with Simone Martini and presented in July 2000 after an arduous but rewarding period of research and study, during which our discussions were intense but our conclusions shared. We proposed for the first time that Fiesole villa owes its design to Leon Battista Alberti, not to Michelozzo, and that it then became the prototype of the Renaissance villa.

A first-hand survey of the building and the garden provided invaluable material; archival research also produced many relevant documents, such as bills of sale, valuations and inventories, which enabled us to go backwards in time through the fascinating history of the villa and its numerous owners.

The original building, once subsequent alterations had been identified, was then studied and particular attention paid to the proportions; new elements emerged regarding its attribution, leading us to the conclusion not only that Alberti was involved in its design but also that this hilltop dwelling, commissioned by Giovanni, Cosimo il Vecchio's second son, with its view over the city, is the very first example of a Renaissance villa: that is to say it follows the Albertian criteria for rendering a country dwelling a "villa suburbana". The beauty of this building is not attributable to medieval decorative elements, but to the simplicity of the structure which results in economy, necessity beauty and, above all, harmony in the proportions.

Giovanni de' Medici's suburban villa thus constitutes a decisive move away from the typical rural architecture of XV century Tuscany; it is unique, and shows the first but total overturning of the traditional concepts of architecture which had characterized the villa-castle structures to be found at Trebbio, Cafaggiolo and Careggi.

The Villa Medici in Fiesole should therefore be considered the "muse" for numerous other buildings, not only in the Florence area, which from the end of the XV century onwards find inspiratoin and creative innovation here.

I would like to thank all those who have helped with the writing of this book. In particular: the Archivio Comunale in Fiesole and Maura Borgioli, the Archivio Storico in Florence, Villa I Tatti and Benedetta Orgio for having made available theri photographic material; Pino Brugellis with Stella Targetti, Anna Benedetti and Ruggero Longari for their affection during these months.

Special Thanks go to my mother for her loving support and invaluable help which have not infrequently been of fundamental importance.

Donata Mazzini

    To my father, so that what he left might live on

Taken from the book
by Donata Mazzini and Simone Martini
Firenze, Centro Di, 2004