The Granduke's Wine by Laura Baldini
«In this Palace the Duke ordinarily resides, living with his Swiss guards, after the frugal Italian way, and even selling what he can spare of his wines, at the cellar under his very house, wicker bottles dangling over even the chief entrance into the palace, serving for a vintner's bush»
John Evelyn, Diary - 1644
These words written in John Evelyn’s diary of 1644 refer to a singular fact regarding the Granduke Ferdinando II de’ Medici – a meticulous and fascinating account of the events that go from 1640 to 1706. The leftover wine was sold off by the Granduke in the palace cellars; and even had straw-covered bottles hanging from the main vault of Palazzo Pitti for this purpose.
This seems somewhat absurd, not because of wine selling, but rather for the habit of hanging straw-covered wine flasks from the main entrance; an obligatory passageway for whoever wanted an audience with the Granduke.
We need to understand the situation in 1644, the era in which John Evelyn wrote his Diary. Fortunately, we still have Diacinto Maria Marmi’s fairly accurate drawn plan of the palace, dating about twenty years later (Fig.1).
The central entrance was very different to the actual one, made by Pasquale Poccianti in the 1800’s, after the Lorraine Restoration, forsaking the left-hand side room (shown ‘A’) including the German Guards’ barracks.
The original hallway was certainly narrower, yet it must have been just as high as the current one: 9 – 10 metres, like the entire inner floor. It seems unlikely that wine flasks could have been hung from that height, where it would have been difficult to fix them, let alone to unhook them. There is also another reason worth considering: neither Marmi’s plan of the 1600’s, nor those of the 1700’s show any connection between the main hallway and the cellars below. So, we must therefore think that John Evelyn’s indications are wrong; or maybe not entirely correct, as his Diary notes a chief entrance, so there must have been one. As indeed there was!
On the Pitti Palace façade there is indeed another entrance, exactly the same size as the central one. Nowadays it is used by the Soprintendenza offices, but it was originally the palace’s carriage entrance, the only one that arrived all the way into the garden.
The carriages entered into the hallway, crossing the nearby Cortile del Tinello(Refectory Courtyard), continuing into the Cortile dei Sig. Paggie(Pages’ Courtyard) up to the Boboli Gardens along the rampart arriving at the Amphitheatre.
This hallway is shown on Marmi’s map as No.15, together with a service stairway on the right-hand side. The caption describes everything as Ricetto che serve per passo delle carrozze e scala che scende in cantina del Ser.mo Principe Cardinale Gio. Carlo(carriage throughway hall and Prince Cardinal Giovanni Carlo’s canteen stairway). This is the only evidence of a direct connection between a hallway and the cellar (also accessible from via a nearby graded ramp).
A little further away is the Stanzino del Maestro di Cantina (Cellar Keeper’s Room) shown as No.5 (under the stairway landing between the entrance hall No.6, and the small room No.4).
The corresponding underground area, not shown in Marmi’s map, is clearly visible on a later map of 1775 (Fig.2), on the right side of No.8, Terrapieno sotto al secondo Ingresso(embankment under second entrance), the lower part of the connecting stairway for the ground floor is recognisable. A later, turn of the century map, indicates it with the letter ‘n’between the Scale Inservibili(service stairs).
Undoubtedly, the wine selling activity in this area was feasible, even wine flasks would have been realistically seen hanging from the ceiling, which is lower than the central one here because of the overhead mezzanine.
This is clearly an assumption, and will probably remain so, because of the lack of official documentation. Even so, this assumption should be considered. John Evelyn had visited the Boboli Gardens, going as far as the Vasca dell’Isola and the Fontana di Nettuno, which he does not mention explicitly, but recognises, as he remembers the basin made of a single block of stone – the largest he had ever seen. He could have possibly visited the Boboli Gardens in a carriage, passing under the Carriage Hallway, from where he could have seen the wine flasks hanging.
His visit was surely registered in some Granducal Court Visitors’ Book. It would be interesting to verify this in the State Archives, as a description could clear up all doubts raised by John Evelyn’s Diary.
August 10 2019
Wine Windows in Faenza by Diletta Corsini
Marco Santandrea, art historian and founder of the “Torre dell’Orologio” Association has summarized and even noted the date of their birth, as being July 12, 1824, as ordered by Cardinal Agostino Rivarola. This prelate was nominated in 1824 as legate of the Province of Ravenna. He devised what he considered to be an infallible method of preventing possible insurrections or revolutionary activity on the part of masons and the “carboneria” and of restoring order to the territory.
With the excuse of stopping drunkenness and the wasting of precious money on alcoholic drink, he decided to close all the taverns and bars which sold wine, places which were used by the poorest members of the population who were at risk of becoming revolutionaries. By closing them, he also was damaging the interests of the nobility, who produced wine on their estates.
Therefore, he created the ingenious method of allowing the noble families to continue to sell their wine honestly through the back doors of taverns which faced side or back streets rather than the main ones. These back doors contained a small opening or window for passing a bottle or glass of wine to the client who, once he had drunk his beverage, had to leave the premises.
The wine which was produced by the landed families and was previously sold directly from their cellars, now had to be sold through this wine window which, for ease, was carved out of the wooden doors on the side or back of their homes.
The use of these wine-vending windows continued even after the taverns and bars re-opened, which occurred only a few months following the Cardinal’s edict. The noble families sold their wine at a slightly lower price than the taverns, and next to the wine windows it was sometimes possible to find a bench upon which to enjoy one’s purchase. Wine selling was most frequent in the evening, with the concomitant closure of other shops. Clients usually furnished their own flask or bottle for the beverage.
The wine windows in Faenza are on Via Borsieri, Via Tonducci, Via Torricelli (ex-Ragnoli palace) and Via Viarani (on the right in the photo). They are the last to survive this practice, being used up until the beginning of the 1900s when the social wine cellars were born which were more efficient, modern and produced higher quality wine.
Following the disuse of the wine windows, building restoration and remodeling cancelled much of the signs of the wine windows, which should be preserved. It is also possible that there were wine windows in Ravenna and other nearby cities since the Cardinal’s edict concerned the entire Province.
July 31, 2019
Faenza, like Florence, also has ghost wine windows - those which have disappeared but are documented architectonically, through old photographs and publications. One has been documented by Pietro Nenni, one of the historic leaders of the Italian Socialist Party, who provided proof of a seventh wine window in Faenza which is no longer there.
He wrote that his father, Giuseppe, called Jusafì, who worked on a farm at Solarolo, moved to Faenza to work for Count Ginnasi, for whom he served as man servant, cellarer and wine vendor using the wine window of the Ginnasi Palace. This palace still exists in Corso Matteotti, but the wine window is no longer there. There is one in Vicolo Naldi, however, which is in front of the palace.
This map was sent to us by the Torre dell’Orologio Association, highlighting in green the wine windows which still exist in Faenza. Those highlighted in red indicate ones which have disappeared over time: one in Via Manfredi on the Manfredi home and then the Caldesi Palace, another in Vicolo Diavoletto serving Ghirlandi Palace.
18. Cantina del Gelato
23. Osteria delle Belle Donne
24. La Buchetta Food&Wine
37. Le Botteghe di Donatello
47. Trattoria Osteria da Que’ Ganzi
60. Vivoli Gelateria
62. Johnny Bruschetta
78-79. Il Latini
84. Osteria delle Brache
132. Odeon Bistro
141. Ristorante Buca Lapi
The Wine Windows in Florence and some surroundings towns have been used for centuries to purvey millions of glasses and bottles of wine directly to customers. But is it still possible today to drink a glass of wine which has been sold through a Wine Window?
Clearly not, because this type of commercial transaction is conducted in a totally different manner today.
However, there are several pubs and restaurants and taverns in the historical center of Florence today which “house” Wine Windows and where you can eat and drink excellent Tuscan food and local wine and observe the Windows from both inside and out.
There are 14such places which are listed and numbered according to our own complete list of Wine Windows as shown in our Photo Gallery in another section of our website. The addresses you can locate yourselves!
"Babae", a new bistro in via Santo Spirito, serves glasses of wine through the wine window every day from 7pm to 8pm!
A 1500’s inventory of a Florentine furnace with a storeroom and sales shop lists over 6000 wine flasks of different sizes; either ‘nude’ (without straw-covering) or ‘dressed’ (ready for sale with straw-covering).
Because of this consistent wine flask production, it became necessary to have some sort of formal legislation established. A notice published in 1574 fixed the Mezzo Quarto capacity at 2,28 litres. The Ufficio del Segno Pubblico issued and applied a lead seal onto the straw covering as guarantee of the effective capacity.
Even with this legal system it was still easy to break the law: by simply inserting two new wine flasks inside one that had already been registered, so not paying the official toll. Also, the thicker glass hid the real amount of wine contained.
In order to check glass consistency a law of 1626 established that a registration mark with the Florentine Lily be applied onto the flask’s neck whilst the glass was still hot. It was during the second decade of the 17thcentury that the wine flask changed its centuries-old appearance with the horizontally woven bands leaving the neck and shoulders bare to vertically woven bands.
Then to facilitate transportation in the 1800’s, the base was reinforced with a ring made from left-over straw, tied down by slender reeds called Salicchio. This reinforcement protected the wine flasks from damage and guaranteed safety when carefully stacked one on top of another for transportation in the carts and barouches, as every tiny gap had to be filled.
In the last quarter of the 19thcentury the quality and longevity of Tuscan wine improved, making exportation simpler. Once again, the historical flask was transformed, according to the different requirements, as cited by glass manufacturers from Empoli, in the Vetreria del Vivo Catalogue. The most common flask was called Chianti with vertical straw covering and used for table wine.
The flask with horizonal straw covering held together with side bands was used to contain thermal water and thus called uso Montecatini. The exported flasks were called Toscanelli and had reinforced bases with a finer covering. This name emphasized the regional product, which became a symbol of the close ties existing between product, flask, agricultural economy and manufacturing artisans.
Flasks to be exported were often covered with Sala Bianca, that is the internal part of Marsh Grass bleached by the sun. They were then decorated with red and green side bands alluding to the Italian flag. Some can still be seen in private or public collections or in early 19thpaintings.
by Silvia Ciappi
The wine flask has a characteristic rounded shape. The lower part is convex and covered with Marsh Grass (Salaostiancia) which stabilised and protected the precious liquid (wine and oil) contained inside the flask against knocks and excessive light.
The flask originates in the 14thcentury. Two stories from the Decameron by Giovanni Boccaccio (written between 1349 – 1352) refer to wine flasks as an ideal container of the good Vermiglio wine. Another of his stories talks of the sharp Host called Cisti, specifying that the flasks came in different sizes. Some 14thcentury documents are more precise, attesting that a large wine flask existed, called Di Quarto contained 5.7 litres; a medium wine flask called Di Mezzo Quarto contained 2.28 litres and also a small wine flask called Di Metadella contained 1.4 litres.
15thcentury pictorial representations show the flask covered with Marsh Grass, woven into horizontal bands and covering the entire flask including the neck, leaving only the mouth open.
Two small wine flasks, tied together at the neck with a loop, are visible in one of the scenes of the silver Paliotto (Altar Frontal) by Antonio del Pollaiolo (1477) in the scene
showing the Nascita del Battista (Birth of John the Baptist) at the
Opera del Duomo Museum in Florence (here on the left).
Two bigger flasks obviously used to store wine for the guests, are
shown leaning against a tree trunk in Botticelli’s Banchetto di
Nastagio degli Onesti (1483). Taken from a story in Boccaccio’s
Decameron, VIII Novella of 5thday (above on the right).
S Some frescoes attributed to Domenico Ghirlandaio’s family workshop
show Le Opere di Misericordia (1480) by the Compagnia dei
Buonomini di San Martino (the Oratory of the Good Men of Saint
Martin) in the act of distributing bread and wine. The wine is taken
from a vat and poured into big flasks, the one shown in the fresco is a
Mezzo Quarto flask (below on the right, on the right-hand side).
Literary sources and documents are less detailed in describing the
flask’s form, but specific in referring to its function of containing and
transporting wine. One such example is a quote cited by Andrea
Bacci, the personal doctor to Pope Sixtus V and author of a treatise on
wine De Naturali Vinorum Historia (1595), where he wrote that the
Pope had received some excellent wine from Montepulciano in straw-
covered wine flasks.
Without a doubt, Wine Windows have often been the victims of defacement as well as intentional and unintentional vandalism. There’s no other way to define the alterations which often take place—either destruction, graffiti or other types of scribbling.
The Wine Window in Via delle Casine has been ruined by someone with the desire to destroy an innocent architectonic feature which wasn’t bothering anyone. It was one of the last examples of a Window with a doorknocker attached to it for the use of clients who wished to knock on the door for service. One morning we have noticed that the doorknocker is no longer there. The first two photographs on the right show “before” and “after”.
Another common form of defacement is carried out by individuals who scribble or paint images on the Window in various colors, as documented in other photographs. These are only a small sample of the Windows which have been the object of graffiti.
The only possible excuse that can be made for the vandals who destroy Wine Windows is “ignorance”. In a literal sense of the word, they are ignoring the purpose of the Windows, their history and their beauty, which is certainly not enhanced by their defacement on the part of someone who passes by, spoils something and then walks on.
A Flying Wine Window
Thanks to Attilio Tori, Director of the Casa Siviero Museum, situated on the Lungarno Serristori n.1/3, in Florence, we can add another Wine Window to our collection, although this particular Window is not accessible to the public and not visible from the street – it has flown toward the sky.
To photograph this window, we have had to go on the roof of the Museum. The Window has a stone frame which has been reinserted on an upper floor of this 19th century palace. The Window was no doubt recycled from another palace and installed by Rodolfo Siviero, famous “Art Detective”, and secret agent of the Italian Secret Services during World War II. Siviero played a vital role in the preservation and recuperation of Italian works of art and monuments which were at risk of damage, stolen, or taken during the War.
Siviero was a refined collector of art and loved all aspects of it. He left his home to the Region of Tuscany, and it now houses a Museum which is filled with his vast collection, comprising ceramics, paintings, miniatures, furniture, religious objects, arms, tapestries and other antique fabrics, which reflect his myriad interests. Following in the footsteps of Stefano Bardini, who also constructed a palace-museum of eclectic art objects and used “found” objects from demolished churches and buildings, such as church altars, windows, Renaissance bits of doors and structures, Siviero also “recycled” painted panels for use as doors and antique sculpted pieces for fireplaces and chimneys in his home. Therefore, the Wine Window he installed on an upper story of his palace is no longer utilized for selling wine but is an actual window which allows light and air to pass inside.
Newly discovered in Barberino di Mugello,
Borgo San Lorenzo and Bibbiena!
A kind reader of the article about our Association which appeared in La Repubblica has informed us of the existence of Wine Windows in the towns of Barberino di Mugello and Borgo San Lorenzo, outside of Florence, but still in Tuscany.
The two windows to the left (the first one is in Barberino) have a very unusual shape—which seems like the form of a traditional Tuscan wine bottle—the “fiasco”.
In Galliano, a village outside of Barberino, there is another Window of which we only have the Google Street View for now (upper right).
We have discovered in Via Cappucci, n. 32 of Bibbiena, another Wine Window (lower right), and look forward to more discoveries.
Via dei Pachetti, n. 2 and 4, Florence: two Wine Windows, one of which is linked to the interior of the historical restaurant, wine shop “Il Latini”.
Below is a Venetian “hump” and a Roman “nose”.
To visit an Italian city of art is always a fascinating experience because it allows one to travel from the present to the past in a way which is always unique. Next to a prestigious museum or cathedral which houses the most important artworks in the world, one can also find small, individual treasures, unusual architectural marvels and points of interest.
For example, in Venice, there are hundreds of humps (“gobbe” or “pissabraghe”) in the angles of the streets which were placed to make it impossible for rogues or thugs to lurk to attack an unaware pedestrian. These interesting protuberances also discouraged men from urinating in corners as they were designed to “splash back” the urine onto the perpetrator.
In Rome, on the other hand, there is an army of more than 2,000 curved water spouts (“nasoni”) sticking out in the streets which provide potable water to passers-by.
Florence, instead, is endowed with its Wine Windows (“buchette”), small, arched openings in the facades of the antique palaces and large houses, often located near the large front door of the building. Unlike the humps in Venice or the water spouts in Rome, these small stone windows—which are often at eye-level or lower, but which did not allow the outsider to look inside and often were covered with a small door--often go unobserved by both local Florentines as well as tourists. Sometimes they are wrongly identified as religious tabernacles (which also exist in Florence, but which are usually larger and placed higher up on the façade). It seems incredible that they are not more observed since there are more than 100 of them in the oldest part of the city of Florence, which is traversed and observed by hordes of tourists every day. But, as Edgar Allen Poe said, the best way to hide an object is to leave it in plain sight.
For centuries, the Wine Windows in Florence were used by the well to do families which had vineyards outside of the city, to sell their own wine directly to the consumer. The servants who looked after the wine in the cellar of the palaces, also sold the wine to customers, who often brought their own jug, bottle or glass, placed through the small window, where it was filled up, and an exchange of money for wine completed the transaction. The Wine Windows often sported a cover, a small door, and when the customer knocked, they were opened for business. The customer was asked what type of wine and how much they wanted. The Windows were large enough to accommodate a bottle (“fiasco”) with a large straw bottom, as Tuscan wine was traditionally bottled.
These two “false” Wine Windows shown in the small photographs are in Via Martelli, n. 9 and Via Pandolfini, n. 8.
To the right you see that the first is positioned above a sculptured tabernacle housing the Virgin Mary with Child by an artist from Rossellino’s workshop.
Often, above this “false” Wine Window is a religious tabernacle with a sacred image in it, or an antique lantern. The small window was used to lift or lower objects using the chain or cord—including oil for a votive lamp. Thus, the votive lamp could remain lit for the entire night, making the city safer for pedestrians.
There are quite a few “false” Wine Windows in Florence. At first glance, they seem to be a Wine Window—they are of the right shape, they have a small door, they are at the right height, and near the front door of the palace.
However, there are some anomalies, such as a door which opens on the outside. Wine Window doors instead, always opened toward the inside. Another feature of a “false” Wine Window is that the space, without a wooden inside doorway, is closed up by a wall. Normal Wine Windows which are out of use are blocked up evenly with the building façade. Sometimes the “false” Wine Windows contain a small chain or metal mechanism. When this is the case, on occasion, you can glance upwards and see a small channel in the façade which goes inside the house, and a cord is attached.
Buchette del Vino
via della Pergola, 48
Il sito, gestito dall'Associazione Buchette del Vino, è online dal 30 marzo 2016.
I testi sono a cura di Diletta Corsini, Matteo Faglia, Mary Forrest, salvo dove diversamente specificato.
This website is managed by the Wine Windows Association (Associazione Buchette del Vino).
The text has been prepared by Diletta, Corsini, Matteo Faglia and Mary Forrest, except when otherwise indicated.