DOCUMENTS & PHOTOS

 

 

 

Free Wine from the Wine Windows

by Diletta Corsini

Here are some of the questions regarding Wine Windows about which we are uncertain how to respond:

 

“Was it possible to buy olive oil directly from the producer through the wine windows, or only wine?”

“Was it possible to buy vin santo as well as normal wine?”

“Is it true that the wealthy Florentine families would leave a glass of wine and a plate of food in the wine window for a poor person to enjoy?”

 

It is difficult to answer the above questions—we need to do a lot of research to discover the answers, but once in awhile, a bit of knowledge surfaces. For example, until now, we did not know if the wine windows were used to assist the poor, because we had not found any written documentation regarding this, but only the vague memory from someone’s grandfather who said that the “Frati Zoccolanti” (poor monks) would knock on the wine windows to receive alms.

 

However, some evidence has now emerged regarding the use of Wine Windows to aid the poor from the writer from the region of Romagna, Marino Moretti (1885-1979), well known for his Poems Written with a Pencil (“Poesie scritte col lapis”), which have remained inscribed on the minds of generations of readers. Marini, who was jokingly called Pazzo Pazzi (“Crazy Crazies”), lived as a student in Via Laura and then Via del Proconsolo in Florence. After that, he came regularly to live in Florence for 6 months out of the year, in Piazza Santa Felicita in a modest house carved out of a tower which was part of the Renaissance walkway uniting Palazzo Vecchio with Palazzo Pitti. In 1921 he published his novel “Neither Beautiful nor Ugly” (“Né bella né brutta”), which was reissued in 1968 as part of the “Racconti dell’Amorino.” In this novel he tells about Gianna, who is in Florence on her honeymoon with her husband, who serves as a tour guide by saying that Florence was a city of wine producers and that the small door near the main entrance to the big houses was for selling wine directly to customers. Gianna tells Tullio that often the noble families would give wine away to the poor. All they had to do was knock on the small window and the cellarman who worked inside would open the window and hand out a bottle of wine.

 

 

Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli speaks about Florence and then Rome by Alessandro Cambi

There are numerous writers who, having visited Florence and become curious about the small doors found in the

large palaces, have written about these Wine Windows, but Giuseppe Gioachino Belli plays a special role among

these for three reasons.

 

The first is that he was a writer from Rome and visited Florence in 1824, leaving a precise testimony of the

Wine Windows in his “Prose di viaggio” (Travel Writings). Belli says that in Florence wine is sold on the ground

floor of all the large palaces and many houses, through a small rotund opening in the top part and closed with a

wooden or iron door, complete with a knocker. The small window is opened from the inside by the cellarman or

porter or general factotum who is given an empty flask or bottle and some money in exchange for filling the flask

with wine. Therefore we can conclude that in the first 30 years of the 19th century that all the major palaces and

many houses had a wine window, that the sale of wine, as in previous periods, was carried out by the cellarman of the family, who was an important member of the household staff, and that this cellarman/porter was often given other important tasks, making him a general manager or factotum.

 

The second reason is that Belli gives other indications which help us identify another aspect of the wine

windows by saying that the narrowness of the aperture was such as to not allow those on the outside of the

house to see exactly who was serving them or what was going on inside. This meant that a substitute for the

official cellarman could conduct the transaction without the client’s knowledge.

On some occasions the wine windows were at street level, allowing light to penetrate the cellar, as in Via

dell’Oriolo, n. 19 or Via della Vigna Vecchia, n. 7 (pictures on the left).

 

The third reason is tied to the role of the substitute for the cellarman who Belli says could exploit the absence

of the official cellarman to sell wine at a higher price, since he could not be easily identified.

Belli also talks about Rome of his period—a city which of course has changed enormously. Perhaps his interest

in the Wine Windows of Florence was not so much because of their uniqueness but because there was a type of

Wine Window in use in Rome at that time. While there were Wine windows in palaces along the banks of the

Arno in Florence, there were also in buildings along the banks of the Tiber in Rome, although they were not

popular, as in Florence. Pope Leo XII, in 1824, in an effort to bring morality to the citizens of Rome, and to

prevent fights and homicides in taverns due to alcohol consumption on an empty stomach, prohibited the sale of

wine in these places without the client also buying food to eat with the wine. As a deterrent, he made inn

keepers install a small wine window on the outside of their tavern, with a wooden door, where clients could buy

wine to take home for consumption. Naturally, the Romans did not appreciate this prohibition on drinking

without also buying food and began to resent the Pope’s efforts to improve morality. Pasquino’s famous

"talking statue” was filled with angry protests on the part of the populace against the Pope.

 

Questo papa sempre a letto

dentro Roma allarga il ghetto,

alle scienze l’interdetto,

anche al vino il cancelletto,

questa legge é di Maometto.

Oh, governo maledetto!

Belli also wrote to protest about

this situation:

 

Li cancelletti

Ma cchi

ddiavolo, cristo!, l’ha ttentato

sto pontescife

nostro bbenedetto

d’annàcce a

sseguestrà ccor cancelletto

quella

grazzia-de-ddio che Iddio scià ddato!

La sera,

armanco, doppo avé ssudato,

s’entrava in

zanta pace in d’un buscetto

a bbeve co

l’amichi quer goccetto,

e arifiatà lo

stommico assetato.

Ne pô ppenzà de

ppiú sto Santopadre,

pôzzi avé bbene

li mortacci sui

e cquella santa

freggna de su madre?

Li cancelletti

Ma cchi

ddiavolo, cristo!, l’ha ttentato

sto pontescife

 

Pope Pio VIII, the successor to Leo XII, after his election in 1829, had the Wine Windows in Rome removed and many of them were burned publicly, much to the joy of the citizens. Although his pontificate lasted only one year and was relatively uneventful, the Romans remembered him with affection and wished him a peaceful repose in Heaven:

 

Allor che il sommo Pio

Comparve innanzi a Dio

Gli domandò: Che hai fatto?

Rispose: Niente ho fatto!

Corresser gli angioletti:

Levò li cancelletti…

Reference: Giuseppe Gioacchino Belli, Lettere Giornali Zibaldone, Ed. a cura di Giovanni Orioli, Einaudi, Torino, 1962 p. 38.

nostro bbenedetto

d’annàcce a

sseguestrà ccor cancelletto

quella

grazzia-de-ddio che Iddio scià ddato!

La sera,

armanco, doppo avé ssudato,

s’entrava in

zanta pace in d’un buscetto

a bbeve co

l’amichi quer goccetto,

e arifiatà lo

stommico assetato.

Ne pô ppenzà de

ppiú sto Santopadre,

pôzzi avé bbene

li mortacci sui

e cquella santa

freggna de su madre?

Cqui nun ze fa

ppe mmormorà, ffratello,

perché sse sa

cch’er padronaccio è llui:

ma ccaso lui

crepassi, addio cancello.

Tobias Smollett (1721-1771), left, was a writer, historian, journalist and Scottish physician, who resided in Italy because of health problems. He died in Antignano and was buried in the English cemetery of Livorno next to his wife, Ann, who was a Creole daughter of a rich Jamaican landowner whom he met on one of his trips to the West Indies as ship’s physician. Taken from “Travels through France and Italy.”

 

John Evelyn (1620-1706), right, was the son of an English country gentlemen who studied at Oxford and became a member of the Royal Society. Between 1643 and 1647 he traveled in France and Italy. His diary was published posthumously in 1818, and is testimony to his wide-ranging interest in the natural world, costumes, arts, and the customs of both France and Italy.

 

Who is Lady Morgan,

and why is she saying those

terrible things about us?

 

by CORINNA CARRARA

 

Lady Sydney Morgan (1783 - 1859) was one of the most controversial Irish authors of her time due to her diary/book "Italy", published in 1821, in the wake of her successful novels.

Along with her husband, Lady Morgan went on a Grand Tour commissioned by her editor, Colburn, who wanted to publish the impressions seen and described by her. "Italy" recounts just that, the disastrous political, economical and social situation in that country: causing heated diatribes and even being baned in the Church States. It was impossible to discuss this book in public or even display it in Bookshops; whoever had shown an interest in the 'liberal ideas' of the author risked arrest! Whilst in Italy the audacious Lady Morgan did not hesitate to emphasize that the Papal/Noble alliance had only produced poverty and distruction there. She was a staunch supporter of the Napoleonic Refoms and a spokeswoman for values of liberty and equality; sardonically describing the habits of local landed gentry, earning for herself a good number of enemies within the more conservative environments!

Whilst in Florence Lady Morgan described in her cutting way the use of wine windows! This is what she wrote about direct wine sales:

"The revenues of the great landed proprieties of Tuscany chiefly arise out of their olive grounds and vineyards; and as there is little exportation, or wholesale trade, as every species of restriction now exists to harass and to menace commerce, the produce of the rich estates of Tuscany is of necessity disposed of by retail at home. The influence also of the ancient mercantile manners on men to whose immediate ancestry the pomp of title was unknown, is such, that a species of little shop is opened, even in the noblest palaces; and as no license is necessary, the produce of the cellar is disposed of with a minuteness of detail, not to be surpassed by any little winehouse on the high roads of France".

"While the Cardinal's hat, or Papal key, or Ducal coronet, are gorgeously sculptured over the massive portals of the palace, close beneath these insignia of the dignities to which the family have arrived, appears a little grated window, where the vinajo presides, and from whence hangs suspended an old flask: and while the splendid equipages of their excellencies roll into the court, their chief butler is perhaps filling a little pint bottle, held by some poor customer at the grated window, who has probably received in charity from the lord the very halfpence she is now paying back at his shop".

 

"This custom, though general, is by no means universal. The casa Capponi, Ginori, Pucci, Corsini, and a hundred others, hang out no bush, though they of course dispose of the produce of their estates: the custom chiefly prevails with those ultra-nobles, who adhere to the Medicean regime. For the Princes of that family had the meanness to become hucksters, with the ambition of being despots…

 

The Prince of Vintners by Diletta Corsini

The direct sale of wine from small windows in the noble palaces of Florence must have

appeared to foreign visitors on the Grand Tour as a very singular characteristic of our city.

Not only the brilliant Lady Morgan (see the following article by Corinna Carrara), but also

other English writers passing through Florence, have remarked upon the wine windows.

Tobias Smollet said, shortly before the arrival of Pietro Leopoldo, that although Florence

was densely populated, it seemed that there was very little commerce of any type. However,

the residents were hoping to benefit from the presence of the Archduke, and were therefore

restoring the Pitti Palace for his residence. Although proud, the Florentine nobility was

humble enough to have shops in the ground floor of their palaces and to even sell wine

directly from their homes.

The façade of every palace in this city has a small window with an iron door and above

this window is an empty wine bottle, signifying the sale of wine from the window, he noted.

The family sends their servant to sell the wine from the window for clients. Clients tap on

the window which is then opened by a servant, who then furnishes a bottle of wine in

exchange for money, just like a waiter in a tavern.

 

The most serious critic of the direct sale of wine by noble families in Florence was John Evelyn, who visited Florence in 1644, at the time when Pietro da Cortona was decorating the ceilings of the Pitti Palace. He made a portrait of the Grand Duke Ferdinand II, shown here above, calling him the incredible “Prince of Vintners.” Evelyn remarked that in the Pitti Palace, residence of the Grand Duke, there were Swiss guards, in the frugal way of Italian princes, and that the Grand Duke even sold wine from his own cellar which he did not need for himself. Straw-bottomed wine flasks were suspended over the main doorway of the Palace, and had the same meaning as a branch for a vintner’s shop: wine is sold here.

BOOK REVIEW

Wine Windows in Florence

by LIDIA CASINI BROGELLI

The author of this book, published in the early 21st century, tries to provide a census of the Wine Windows existing in the historical center and "Oltrarno" (Left Bank) zone of Florence. This is a topic which the author believes has been ignored but which should be well considered since Wine Windows played an important part in Florentine culture over the centuries.

 

In a brief introduction she describes the great interest in wine in the Arno valley from ancient times when the inhabitants were called "Liguri/Villanoviani" up to present times (with the Florentine noble families who still cultivate thousands of hectares of vinyards). The author presents a list of these families and the topographical location of this network of roads and Florentine palaces. The Chapter entitled "The Wine Windows of the Historic Center" is divided into four subcategories: "Wine Windows of the Historic Center," "Peripheral Wine Windows", "Left Bank Wine Windows", and "Left Bank Countryside Wine Windows", describing the streets and town squares where the most Wine Windows are located for direct sale of wine from producer to client.

The author describes the most relevant characteristics of the Wine Windows but the

best feature of the book is the history of the streets and squares, palaces and families where the Wine Windows are located. She recounts not just history but also her personal impressions and the reader can imagine the author shaking her head, dismayed, when she reflects about the families with important towers and palaces who eliminated their Wine Windows in the process of restoring the facades of their homes, remarking that today these particular architectonic features would enhance the building's value.

 

Brogelli recounts different aspects of the antique traditions of wine making in the city and its accompanying countryside, highlighting that the importance of this industry paved the way for the appearance of the Wine Windows and their proliferation.

 

The preface of the book, by Luciano Artusi, describes the socioeconomic context in which the Wine Windows developed, furnishing useful information on the type and quality of Florentine wines produced and sold either directly by the producer or through intermediaries in wine shops and taverns. He also describes the Winemakers Guild which controlled and monitored this important commerce.

 

This is a pleasurable book to read and is a useful guide in this field for identifying and admiring the various Wine Windows in the center of Florence. The only defect of the book is that the index does not assist in deepening the reader's knowledge of the palaces, streets and

Lidia Casini Brogelli, Le buchette del vino a Firenze

Semper, Firenze 2004, 184 pagine

 

individual Windows. However, this book contains an error in the subtitle, in referring to the Left Bank (Oltrarno) of the city of Florence as a separate entity from the historical center. Obviously the Oltrarno is part of the historical center--affirmed as such even by UNESCO.

 

However, the Florentines themselves often distinguish between these two parts of the city which are divided by the river Arno - the Right Bank which is the Center and the Left Bank which is the "Bohemian" Oltrarno - so the reader can understand why the author has committed this particular anomaly.

Massimo Casprini, I Finestrini del vino

Firenze 2005, n. ed. 2015 con addenda, 114 pagine

 

Casprini recalls a Florence which is now almost completely lost, describing a time when it was like a large village where one could sit and rest, trying a glass of wine purchased from the Wine Window next door and gossip, discuss or debate every evening.

 

Through many citations of varying provenance such as Grand Duchy proclamations, deliberations, comments from personal diaries, poems, etc., Casprini provides much information which is analytical and coherent in terms of the social history of Florence in the 1500s, 1600s and 1700s, the centuries in which Wine Windows were the most heavily utilized.

BOOK REVIEW

Not just in Florence

by MASSIMO CASPRINI

The author recounts that he was moved by curiosity to investigate the typical Florentine use of Wine Windows (the direct sale of small quantities of wine through apertures in the palaces of the wine-producing families in Florence). He resuscitates the antique Italian term for these apertures, calling them "Finestrini" which means Windows in English.

Casprini asks the typical journalistic questions of Why, How, When and Who created and utilized these peculiar architectural features. He reconstructs, through an analysis of documents, the history of Wine Windows in Florence, taking into consideration the role of wine in the relevant periods studied (although some questions remain unanswered).

 

For example, in the period of the Grand Duchy of Florence, many medicinals were fabricated from wine components. He says that the "nectar of the gods" was measured using the Italian terms of "cogna," "bigonce" and "some": meaning vats and loads or weights. He describes that wine was stored in casks and small vats, but that it was sold mainly in glass bottles of various quantities, the bottom of which was covered with woven straw ("fiaschi"). These could be one-fourth liter, one-eighth liter but were primarily in one-half liter ("metadelle") units, whose form with a rounded bottom and short spout, could easily fit through the Wine Window.

Casprini's book has a list of the existing Wine Windows in the city of Florence within a limited area, as well as a photographic index with a brief description of each Window.

 

The author is not certain when Wine Windows began to be used in Florence, considering the hypothesis that they originated in the 1300s as undocumented. He guesses that the Windows may have begun in 1532 when, after the fall of the Republic, the Medicis returned to power in Florence and the Wine Producing Sindicate gradually began to fail. The first documention of the direct sale of wine in bottles in the palaces of the families producing the wine is in 1559, but does not mention the existence of the Wine Windows.

There are other hypotheses regarding the termination of their use. An elderly shepherd, Richetto, who worked in southern Tuscany, assures us that the Wine Windows were still in use in the early 1900s. Giulio Caprin, director of the daily Florentine newspaper, La Nazione, in the late 1940s, says that by 1953 the habit of ordinary citizens buying wine by the bottle directly from the producer through the Wine Windows, had ended. Apparently in the half-century which produced two World Wars and two post-war periods, something happened in Florence to halt this flourishing commerce, but exactly what occurred is still a mystery.

 

Nevertheless, the lack of an answer to this particular question does not diminish the value of this book, which is fundamental to anyone wanting to know more about Wine Windows in Florence, since it satisfies the reader's curiosity and furnishes adequate responses to most of the questions regarding this topic.

 

 

Buchette del Vino

Associazione Culturale

via della Pergola, 48

50121 FIRENZE

 

0039 0550503936

 

info@buchettedelvino.org

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.