ANTIGERM WINE WINDOWS
Yesterday and Today by Diletta Corsini
I have recently located the oldest description of the use of wine windows in Florence in a book published in 1634, as reported in the Italian newspaper “La Repubblica” in an article by Carmela Adinolfi. The description describes one of the most recent periods of The Plague in the city, which had afflicted European populations for centuries.
Florence’s wine windows turned out to be useful anticontagion devices for selling wine.
Today, during our period of covid-19 pandemic lockdown, the owners of the wine window in Via dell’Isola delle Stinche at the Vivoli ice cream parlor in Florence have reactivated their window for dispensing coffee and ice cream, although not wine. Two other nearby wine windows, that of the Osteria delle Brache in Piazza Peruzzi and that of Babae in Piazza Santo Spirito, have taken us back in time by being used for their original purpose—socially-distant wine selling.
Francesco Rondinelli, the Florentine scholar and academic, in “Relazione del Contagio Stato in Firenze l’anno 1630 e 1633”, during the terrible bubonic plague epidemic occurring in Europe at that time, reported that wine producers who were selling their own wine through the small wine windows in their Florentine palaces, understood the problem of contagion. They passed the flask of wine through the window to the client but did not receive payment directly into their hands. Instead, they passed a metal pallet to the client, who placed the coins on it, and then the seller disinfected them with vinegar before collecting them. Wine purveyers also attempted to avoid touching the wine flasks which were brought back to them by the client, in two different ways. Either the client purchased wine which was already bottled, or the client was allowed to fill his or her flask directly by using a metal tube which was passed through the wine window, and was connected to the demijohn on the inside of the palace. So, the wine merchant either filled new flasks for direct purchase or placed the demijohn in a slightly raised position so that the wine would flow down the small metal pipe into the client’s bottle.
Reference to the wine windows in this publication from 1634 did not call them “buchette” or “finestrini” but used a generic term, “sportello”, which means aperture or opening.
Rondinelli’s book “Relazione del Contagio . . .” was republished in 1714. It did contain additional material on all the most famous epidemics which had occurred throughout the world. The Preface of this later edition contains a brief description of Rondinelli’s life. The Grand Duke Ferdinand II de’ Medici had awarded him the position of Librarian of the Grand Duchy for his report on the Plague, and he was made tutor to the future Grand Duchess, Vittoria della Rovere.
May 30, 2020
A cup of ice cream is passed through the Wine Window of the Vivoli ice cream parlor in Via delle Stinche and a cappuccino in that of Babae in Via Santo Spirito.
On the left, a cocktail in the Wine Window of the Osteria delle Brache in Piazza Peruzzi. On the right, a portrait of Francesco Rondinelli (1589-1665).
Cover of the book by Rondinelli and an article about use of the Wine Windows during the Plague in Florence occurring from 1630-1633.
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.
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).
Some frescoes attributed to Domenico Ghirlandaio’s family work
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.
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.
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
ddiavolo, cristo!, l’ha ttentato
sseguestrà ccor cancelletto
grazzia-de-ddio che Iddio scià ddato!
armanco, doppo avé ssudato,
zanta pace in d’un buscetto
a bbeve co
l’amichi quer goccetto,
e arifiatà lo
Ne pô ppenzà de
ppiú sto Santopadre,
pôzzi avé bbene
li mortacci sui
e cquella santa
freggna de su madre?
ddiavolo, cristo!, l’ha ttentato
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.
sseguestrà ccor cancelletto
grazzia-de-ddio che Iddio scià ddato!
armanco, doppo avé ssudato,
zanta pace in d’un buscetto
a bbeve co
l’amichi quer goccetto,
e arifiatà lo
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.
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.
•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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Buchette del Vino
via della Pergola, 48