Saturday, August 11, 2012

Etruscan Design ~ I lived in a Medieval Museum for a week!

15th Century Dante Chair, walnut and leather. In Saints Ippolito and Cassiano Oratory, Toscana

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Cantine Leonardo Da Vinci

Casale di Valle Hunting Lodge- DaVinci Cantine, Vinci, Italy
Okay, okay, so it wasn't, technically, a museum, but the 16th century, Casale di Valle Hunting Lodge, on the Cantine Leonardo DaVinci, in Vinci,Toscana, very well, could have been, with the priceless, medieval treasures that inhabited this lordly abode. The ancient Casale, itself, is historically preserved, but, some of the Medieval furniture within the Casale, is even on display in a major league art museum in NYC! (more on that later)... The Casale is, surely, luxury accommodations, with six, impeccably, period-preserved, suites available in the tri-level lodge. Normally, these accommodations are reserved, only, for dignitaries, or prestigious businessmen, so, as you could imagine, I am, deeply, honored to have lodged here as a special guest of DaVinci Wine for the DaVinci Storyteller Experience.

From it's hilltop position, is a painterly, view of the classic, Tuscan landscape; the kind you see on postcards and think, "Wow! It's SO perfect. Does this place really exist, or is this a famous painting?" Well, I'm here to say, it looks, EXACTLY like that! I promise!  It's dotted with silvery, olive trees, bountiful fig, peach, and pomegranate trees that were loaded with juicy fruit, that I did indulge in straight from the branch. Towering, slender, cypress trees line the entire Cantine complex, along with gigantic and aromatic, rosemary, bay leaf, and lavendar bushes, and of course, row after fruitful, row of DaVinci's famed, Sangiovese grape vines; the reason I am there!  But, today, I celebrate the architecture and furniture of the Leonardo DaVinci Cantine Complex.

Oratory of Saints Ippolito & Cassiano -Cantine DaVinci

The Casale di Valle, which, literally, means, "The House of the Valley," was a long time possession of the noble, Florentine, Uguccioni Family, relatives of the famous, monarchial, Medici Family.  Yes. THE Medici Familia. That one! This villa was their hunting lodge. This lodge is just five kilometers from the birthplace of the world famous artist and inventor, Leonardo DaVinci. 

Adjacent to the lodge, is the  modest, 11th century Oratory (Chapel) named after Saints: Ippolito and Cassiano. Inside the oratory is a rather large painting of the Pieta, modestly, framed pen & ink etchings of the fourteen Stations of the Cross (depicting the Passion of Christ), and two small, note-worthy religious paintings, that depict the martyrdom of Saints Ippolito and Cassiano, to whom the Chapel is dedicated.  

 Behind the hunting lodge, is a rather large, handsome, stable (equestrian?), or, perhaps used to gut and store the game that was hunted? This WAS a hunting lodge, after all. Situated further down, along the pebbled driveway, is an enormous, stately, stone building, covered in scaffolding, which is being historically preserved, and restored to serve as a Bed & Breakfast-style hospitality in the near future. (Bed & Breakfast-style lodging has become quite fashionable in Europe, so this conversion should prove to be quite lucrative). I would love to tour this facility when it is finished! I will keep you posted with an update, when I hear it is near completion!

The entire architectural complex is now owned by the Cantine Leonardo DaVinci (purchased in 1988), and all the structures have been restored in keeping with the existing architectural integrity and suggestions of the Fine Arts Commission.

"One of the most beautiful cities in the world" -Forbes Magazine

future Bed & Breakfast-style accommodations
 In Toscana, there are very strict guidelines for restoration and preservation of architectural heritage, and operate much like the Historical Societies we have in The States, but with more militant ferver. But, as you could imagine, this Tuscan civilization is an ancient ancestor compared to the young America, so when I learned that an old, deteriorating  terracotta roof must be renovated instead of replaced, I understood why.  In America, we, usually, only see terracotta roofs in affluent neighborhoods, but in Toscana, (and most of Italia) they are everywhere! And, it's interesting to see how some new tiles are allowed to slip in here and there to patch up an ailing roof. I'm sure there is a percentage that the Preservation Society will allow, and as you can see from the photo of the Casale (above) the more aged the tiles look, the better, in my opinion!  

 It is this kind of preservation and beauty that has earned Florence, Italy (Toscana's capital city) it's rank as one of the most beautiful cities in the world, by Forbes Magazine. And, rightfully so!  Not only are their architectural structures impressive, but as I learned upon entering the Casale di Valle for the first time, the interiors house some note-worthy, ancient artifacts, including museum-quality furniture. And, when I say, museum, I mean, The Metropolitan Museum of Art In NYC, New York, to be exact!

                                            Sedia a Tenaglia ~  The Scissor Chair

Now, look, as a designer, and Fine Art investment consultant, it's normal for my feelers to be out, in full-force, for this sort of thing: I research financial potential of artwork for investment purposes. This time, was no exception. When it comes to art, I'm always on the clock! Come on, I'm in historical,Tuscany, Italy, and I was gushing, like I always do in Italy.

I knew I would see ancient architecture, and even, period-preserved interiors, but I was not prepared for what I laid my eyes on, as soon as I entered the Casale for the first time. There it was. **Queue, Gregorian Chant music** A 15th century, Dante Chair! Just sitting there in the corner! Yep. Baby in the corner.  When I could get some time alone,  I did put the handsome chair in the middle of the living room for this "portrait" (below).  How'd I do?

Even though I was meeting the other DaVinci Storytellers for the very first time, I was so distracted, and not by the towering, Medieval suit of arms that was in the other corner, either. I could not take my eyes off this chair! It was THE most gorgeous guy in the room! (sorry, Mark)  And, now I have, officially, gone public with my chair fetish...THERE!

15th Century Dante Chair (Dantesca),  Casale di Valle - Cantine Leonardo DaVinci, Vinci, Toscana

Inside the Oratory (chapel) of Saints Ippolito and Cassiano, were more great finds! There was another Dante Chair (Dantesca), as pictured in my opening blog photo, but there was also the Savonarola Chair. This chair is named after Girolamo Savonarola, a 15th century French cleric who briefly ruled Florence. This chair was pretty popular in Europe during the Renaissance period.

The Dante chair is named after, well... who else? The one, the only, Dante Alighieri, the famous Florentine poet, literary genius, and author of The Divine Comedy (La Divina Commedia), which is considered the greatest literary work composed in Italian, and one of the greatest and most famous works of World Literature.

The provenance of the Medieval folding (scissor) chair is quite interesting. These chairs were, originally, used only in ecclesiastical settings (Christian Church) and the "X" shape of the chair has symbolic value, as it represents the Cross, and should be shown in front view (although, that has changed over the years).  Dante's family had loyalties to a very powerful, political alliance in Rome that supported the Papacy, so perhaps this is one of the reason that an ecclesiastical chair would bear his namesake centuries after his death?  Oh, where are my favorite Antiques Roadshow, Keno twins when I need them?

  During the Renaissance period, there were two principal variations of the chair: Dante and Savonarola. Both were classified as scissor chairs and a symbol of authority. 

15/16th Century, Savonarola Chair, and dining chair, SS. Ippolito & Cassiano Oratory, DaVinci Cantine Complex

"Beauty awakens the soul to act."  -Dante Alighieri

*All photography by Cathi Iannone, July 2012*


  1. Thanks so much for the furniture history lesson! The chairs are amazingly preserved, as well- pretty incredible. It's a testament to the wood that was available back then, too. Great post! I loved it!

  2. Thanks for checking it out, Gica!! I thought you would like this! I was thinking of you as I wrote it!

    Another little side not: Tuscany is very well known as having one of the best tanneries in the world, so the leather is always the best quality. And how about that walnut! Bellissimo!


  3. This furniture is looking beautiful and simple dear, thanks for sharing with us this informative post...
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    1. Maarten,

      Thank you so much for your gracious compliment, and reading about the DaVinci Cantine Complex! This furniture is, indeed, a treasure!


  4. Hi Cathi,

    I just happened upon your post after looking all over to find information on my family's Dantesca chair, which, to the untrained eye, looks identical to the chair you have pictured. I was wondering how one differentiates between an original and a reproduction. I am afraid it is the latter because of the two numbers that are stenciled on the bottom of chair's legs. Do you know if the chair is valuable even if its a reproduction or who I could talk to in order to figure it out?

    Thank you!! Jamie

  5. Thank you for the information. I am restoring a carved wood and leather Dante at the moment. Wonderful pieces with a fantastic story behind them.