In the 20th century too, restoration and maintenance of the Palace continued. Some rooms were remodeled to make them more functional, and the attic was converted into an apartment with terraces affording a unique view over the monuments of Florence.
Palazzo Gondi in the Twentieth Century can be identified with the life of Amerigo Gondi, and with the care and attention he lavished on it. Amerigo, known to all as Bibi, was born in 1909, the son of Guido and Isabella Ginori, and nephew of Eugenio. Blond with a clear complexion and bright blue eyes, he was portrayed by the painter Vittorio Borriello as an adolescent with a melancholy gaze, seated in an elegant pose on an antique chair. His two sisters, Caterina and Maria Luisa, were both destined to an untimely death. Bibi was highly cultured, entertaining, refined and cosmopolitan. Some of his witty remarks have become legendary in the family, surviving through the changing generations. When Bibi died at the age of nearly a hundred in June 2005, leaving the palace to Bernardo, he was living in the attic with the domestics and a dog, where he received his friends up to the end, continuing to lead a brilliant social life.
It can truly be said that the Twentieth Century was, for Palazzo Gondi, Bibi’s century.
At the dawn of the Twentieth Century the great achievements of Eugenio’s renovation project, directed by Poggi, were already being criticized by the new generations. To them, the austere mansion on an urban scale, armored in thick rusticated stone, ancient and solemn, may have seemed somewhat outdated. Eugenio died in 1924 and his son Guido (1871-1952) lived in the palace with his wife Isabella Ginori up to the middle of the century. During this time, Bibi lived happily in the family’s country residences, at least until the death of his father, dividing his time between the Villa di Grignano near Pontassieve and the Villa di Montarioso in the countryside just north of Siena.
Restoration in the Postwar Period
In April 1954 Amerigo commissioned the architect Emilio Dori to design and direct the work on the top floor of the palace and some service areas on other floors. The style of Dori’s restoration project was highly expressive, well balanced and in harmony with tradition, using terra-cotta revetments, pietra serena, and simple round arches finished in plaster. In Palazzo Gondi the decision to utilize the top floor, which had been occupied by the rooms of the domestic staff, the wardrobes and the laundry, was a sign of innovation, moving away from the old glories and the excessive ornamentation of the 19th century. The remodeling of the attic lasted 3 years, but the architect Dori’s work was not limited to aesthetic effects, such as creating magnificent views. From 1954 to 1957 he also completed a number of maintenance projects, which are documented in the archives. They include repairing the roof up to the level of the mezzanine of the little courtyard inside the carriage entrance, and closing off the service staircase with its triangular layout, created by Poggi, to make part of the third mezzanine under the attic independent, thus creating a “cosy dependance” accessible from the apartment on the top floor, known as Charles’ apartment. In addition, he had an elevator installed in the corridors giving access to a service stairway, and designed a circular platform revolving on ball bearings that, electrically controlled, could be used to turn around a car parked in the service yard on the west side. This device has come down at our own day in perfect working order. From 1960 to 1972 various maintenance and embellishment projects were carried out under the direction of the architect Dori. This is the case of the “decorative scene that was built on the wall near the boundary between the property of Marchese Gondi and the Consorzio Agrario”. It is interesting to note that the balustrade of the terrace before the body of the palace set back from Via de’ Gondi was replaced by concrete pillars emulating stone in 1971. And in 1972, the coat of arms on the corner was replaced by a copy done by the sculptor Mario Moschi from Forte dei Marmi, since after a century the coat of arms and slender columns in pietra serena added by Poggi at the corner of the palace and on the terrace had outlived their time and had to be replaced. It was during those years that Florence suffered the disastrous flood of November 1966. In the palace, this catastrophe is recalled by a small memorial stone placed near the entrance at a height of about 3 meters above ground level, which states concisely, “On November 4, 1966 the waters of the Arno arrived here”. Moreover, the line left by the dirty, greasy water with gasoline and naphtha floating on the top was quite evident on the shafts of the pietra serena columns and the pilaster strips of the glassed-in vestibule. From the stories told by Bernardo, fifteen years old at the time, one leaf of the massive door to the carriage entrance was torn away by the force of the water and, floating downstream with the current, was found later in the mud on the paving of Piazza della Signoria. In the ‘70s the famous landscape artist Pietro Porcinai was called in to remodel and embellish a terrace on the north side affording a magnificent view of the Duomo. The episode that marked the end of the century and left a bitter trace in the one just beginning was the theft, undoubtedly well organized, of ancient documents from the archive. In the summer of 2000, historical documents of priceless value were taken from the library, a great loss for the whole city of Florence.
The latest restoration projects
In 2005, when Bernardo inherited the palace in Piazza San Firenze, the history of its last one hundred years was imprinted on its walls. Apart from its great historical and artistic significance, the palace, viewed in merely structural terms, was in a moderately good state of conservation and was entirely efficient, within the limits of the technological installations remaining from the 1960s. The floor that had seen the greatest changes, as compared to its original splendor, was the ancient piano nobile. For over a century the monumental salon, with its three windows axial to the central portal opening onto Piazza San Firenze and its fireplace designed by Giuliano da Sangallo, had only one entrance, the door from the hallway of the staircase. It had been used, in fact, to store all of the furnishings in the palace, and the other doors opening onto the adjoining rooms had been walled off. How surprising it was to enter, through a corridor giving access to a long row of rooms on the north side of the palace, a storage room with a ceiling frescoed in the 18th century by Matteo Bonechi, which was the bedroom’s alcove. The stucco-work on the arch framing the alcove, depicting angels in glory bearing the Gondi heraldic arms, was instead visible from a small office containing a desk and a telephone. The ground floor of the palace, including the former stables, was occupied mainly by shops, encircling Sangallo’s courtyard. All over the courtyard, a florist displayed his plants and gardening accessories, turning it into a surreal forest sprung up in a Renaissance courtyard, but to the detriment of the pietra serena paving and the column bases The cellar too, assigned for the most part to the shops, served as storage place for the florist, the leather goods shop and the coffee bar. A large part of it was occupied by a great cast iron tank containing gas-oil used for heating.On the outside, the pietra forte of the two facades, on Piazza San Firenze and on Via dei Gondi, was weather-worn and blackened by smog.This then, was Palazzo Gondi as it appeared to Bernardo and Vittoria before undertaking the major restoration project that lasted 5 years.