Sole sur­vivor

Eight decades ago, a young, bank­rupt cob­bler bought a palazzo in Florence to be his ate­lier: it paid off, and how. Sal­va­tore Fer­rag­amo shoes have been worn by gen­er­a­tions of celebri­ties since and, as Alex Pre­ston dis­cov­ers, the fam­ily’s pa­tron­age now exte

The Daily Telegraph - Telegraph Magazine - - SOLE SURVIVOR -

Ihave the Ufzi to my­self, or so it seems. It’s evening, sun­light fun­nelling down the Ar no Val­ley, i llu mi­nat i ng t he c a nted rooftops and domes of the city, pour­ing through the mul­lioned win­dows of the wide cor r idor over­look i ng t he r iver. I’m crowded only by the stat­ues that sur­round me – Ro­man copies of ffth-cen­tury BC Greek gods and god­desses, nymphs and fauns. I stand, pressed against the win­dows, and it feels as if I’m fy­ing out over the Ponte Vecchio, along the yel­low wa­ters of the river, up amid the cy­press­frilled hills that en­cir­cle Florence.

I make my way deeper into the galler y, through rooms whose paint­ings seem more vividly alive with­out the in­ter­rupt­ing ta­pes­try of yam­mer­ing tourists. At one point I stop be­fore a lu­mi­nous by Filippo Lippi, which seems to glow with the same im­mod­er­ate light as the evening out­side. The pu­rity of the im­age is de­cep­tive. Lippi, a randy and dis­rep­utable monk, had been locked up by his pa­tron, Cosimo de Medici, who wanted the artist to paint rather than carouse. Lippi es­caped across the rooftops, guards in hot pur­suit.

It was the Medici fam­ily – ruth­less bankers – whose wealth funded the great four­ish­ing of Floren­tine art in the 15th and 16th cen­turies. Their gen­er­ous, if ul­ti­mately self-in­ter­ested, pa­tron­age en­sured that, half a mil­len­nium later, what Clive James called the ‘mind storm’ of the Ufzi still daz­zles and en­chants.

I’m in Florence to cel­e­brate the lat­est chap­ter in the his­tory of pa­tron­age in the city. Sal­va­tore Fer­rag­amo – the lux­ury goods man­u­fac­turer whose name is inex­tri­ca­bly linked to that of Florence – has fnanced the restora­tion of eight rooms in the Ufzi. It is here that the most cel­e­brated pieces of art and stat­u­ary from the

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