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
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