The Palace, with its facades rising in three orders of rusticated pietra forte, was designed in 1489 by the architect Giuliano da Sangallo for the banker Giuliano Gondi the Elder, over the ruins of the ancient Roman Theatre, on which had been constructed a building that also housed the studio of the Notary Ser Piero da Vinci, Leonardo’s father.
The palace was built at the initiative of Giuliano Gondi the Elder in 1489, to the project of Giuliano da Sangallo, in keeping with the tradition of the great Florentine patrician palaces such as Palazzo Strozzi and Palazzo Medici Riccardi, but with a new stylistic approach.
The area on which it stands overlies the ancient theatre of the Roman city of Florentia, which included the entire perimeter of Palazzo Vecchio.
In 1455 Giuliano Gondi, husband of Maddalena Strozzi, bought a small palace in the Santa Croce quarter, and then other houses that he had demolished in order to build his palace. Here was the studio, rented from the Gondi family for 30 florins a year, of the notary Ser Piero da Vinci, Leonardo’s father. Leonardo da Vinci frequented this house, and according to tradition, it was just here that he painted the Mona Lisa, also known as La Gioconda. It is certain that he sketched Bernardo Bandini’s hanged body from the windows of this building. His presence is recorded, at the entrance on Via dei Gondi, in the following inscription, “Leonardo da Vinci lived his auspicious youth in a house owned by the Merchants’ Guild that was bought by Giuliano Gondi and demolished to build this palace, upon whose completion in MDCCCLXXIII the City and the Mayor agreed that the decorum of this beautiful and noble edifice should be enhanced by the memory of his name”.
The palace grew up around a monumental courtyard. Its facades are designed in three diminishing orders of rusticated pietraforte. The most innovative feature is the design of the windows, framed by stones radiating out from them like the faceting of a gemstone. Like Palazzo Strozzi, the palace has the outside bench characteristic of the epoch. The central courtyard is surrounded by a portico on all four sides, with Corinthian columns whose capitals each have a different design. Its elegant seventeenth-century marble fountain was supplied, through Grand-ducal concession, with water coming from the Boboli Gardens, which also feeds Ammannati’s Neptune Fountain in Piazza della Signoria, known as “il Biancone.” Under the portico is a Roman statue from the 2nd century A.D. depicting Senator Macrinus, a great general and founder of the Baths of Florence. According to Vasari, Giuliano da Sangallo had this statue purchased to be placed at the corner of the palace. From the northern side of the loggia rises the monumental staircase. It too was designed by Sangallo, and is amazing for the perfection of the inlay work at the edge of the steps, with charming animal and plant motifs carved in relief. On the piano nobile, a sumptuous antechamber decorated in relief carvings in pietra serena gives access to the great salon which contains, in addition to eleven large portraits of the most prominent members of Casa Gondi, starting from Giuliano the Elder, the beautiful monumental fireplace in pietra forte built to the design of Giuliano da Sangallo between 1501and 1505. Rich in allegorical bas-reliefs and crowned by two imposing statues, a Hercules and a Sampson, it is one of the finest examples of a sixteenth-century fireplace still intact in its original place. Giuliano da Sangallo also designed the Gondi Chapel in Santa Maria Novella, embellished by the Gondi, at the Friars’ concession, with Brunelleschi’s wooden Crucifix, the famous Christ of the Eggs. In June of 1495 Guidobaldo da Montefeltro, Duke of Urbino, was welcomed with all honors by Giuliano Gondi, his secretary, in the just finished palace.
Over the centuries, other artists have left their marks. In the early 18th century the architect Antonio Ferri was commissioned by Vincenzio and Angelo di Amerigo Gondi to remodel some rooms in the palace to meet the requisites of the time.
This project involved the back the palace, behind the courtyard. Stables were built, and on the first floor, spacious residential
quarters, including the new alcove, created in 1710 for the wedding of Angelo Gondi and Elisabetta, daughter of Senator Filippo Cerretani.
For the alcove, Ferri called in many artists to complete and embellish it. The stucco reliefs with the angels holding up the Gondi coat of arms on the arch over the entrance are by Giovanni Battista Ciceri; the frescoes on the ceiling are by Matteo Bonechi; and Lorenzo Del Moro decorated the coffered ceilings.
The large-scale urban renewal of Florence as Capital of Italy and the widening of the street running along Palazzo Vecchio, today’s Via de’ Gondi, brought renewal to the palace as well.
It was, in fact, the project of Giuseppe Poggi, dating from around 1870, that conferred on the palace its present-day aspect. The owner at the time, Marchese Eugenio Gondi, completed the plans of his predecessor, Giuliano the Elder, so that the ancient facade overlooking the square was extended by a window and a third door that balanced it symmetrically, while the new facade on Via dei Gondi was designed with five axes and three portals, the middle one correctly aligned with the centre of the courtyard.
The architect’s project was not limited to redesigning the facades alone. To facilitate access to the piano nobile from the new carriage entrance, for example, Poggi designed a new ramp of stairs, that without passing from the outside of the courtyard like the ancient one that led directly to the antechamber of the salon, mirrored and duplicated the original, being skillfully carved in pietra serena entirely worthy of Sangallo’s creation. In the second half of the 20th century, Amerigo Gondi converted the service rooms on the third floor into a sumptuous apartment with a splendid belvedere overlooking Piazza San Firenze and various terraces on different levels, among them a small hanging garden designed by the landscape artist Pietro Porcinai.
Palazzo Gondi today is one of the few Florentine palaces still belonging to the descendants of the family that built it. The Palace, now thoroughly renovated, is currently managed by the Gondi family. Palazzo Gondi stands in Piazza San Firenze, separated from Palazzo Vecchio by Via de’Gondi and is just a few steps from the Uffizi Gallery.