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Artigianato e Palazzo: for the sake of Russian legacy preservation

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Artigianato e Palazzo: for the sake of Russian legacy preservation


Anna Genova

TheArtigianato e PalazzoFestival (Artisan crafts and Palace) was held in Florence over the weekend. The anniversary 25th edition has been devoted to charity fundraising for time-critical restoration and preservation of the great cultural and artistic legacy of Russian community that resided in Florence in the 19th and 20th centuries.

The Festival was founded by Princess Giorgiana Corsini andNeri Torrigiani, the facilitator of Artigianato e Palazzo and owner of Studio Torrigiani. The project aims to promote, preserve and hand over the unique knowledge possessed by renowned Italian craftspeople to future generations. The Festival’s organizers told the Russkiy Mir reporter about the Festival and the role of the Russian legacy in Italian culture in detail.

Neri Torrigiani:

How did the idea of theArtigianatoe Palazzo Festival come up?

When Princess Corsini family came back to Florence in the 19th century, they bought this villa. Being a piece of art itself, the villa required restoration, which was performed by true craftsmen. They have still maintained this rich and gorgeous heritage.

The Villa Corsini. Photo credit:

On the other hand, I graduated with a degree in industrial design and communicated with craftsmen on implementation of my own projects. At some point, our two initiatives coincided, and we decided to establish this charity project.

The Festival is always held it the Corsini Gardens, isnt it?

Yes, it is. It is so wonderful that once a year Princess Corsini and her family provide their magical garden for the Festival, which ideally “frames” the arts and crafts legacy presented by talented artists and craftsmen.

The Corsini Gardens

We always emphasize that our exhibition is dedicated not so much to works of the arts and crafts, but rather to artists and craftsmen themselves: visitors can observe how this or that thing is created in real time. The idea is that people are able to see not just the result - the item, but the whole process of its creation, and, of course, so they could acquire something their hearts are set on.

Your exhibition embodies certain contrast induced by modern art as well. Does it also contribute into preservation of Florentine and, this year, Russian-Florentine cultural legacy?

When we decided to raise funds for charity at each festival, we invited artists who would create new objects of art based on one or another relevant topic.
Natalia Savina Trigona, a Russian artist and a participant of the exhibition at the Corsini Villa

Italian fashion designer with her works in Russian style. Rosanna Bernacci. She was so fascinated by Russian culture that she even began to learn Russian.

For instance, last year we managed to open the Museum of Porcelain of the Richard Ginori factory, which had been closed for a long time due to lack of funds. This museum is unique; there is a collection of porcelain produced by Manifattura Ginori starting from the 18th century. Having in mind the principle that opposites attract, we proposed Duccio Maria Gambi, a sculptor who works with cement, to create objects combining two opposing materials - cement and porcelain. That is, to combine the rough, heavy, hard material and the light, gentle, fragile one. Duccio created 20 amazing pieces, which we sold at the Salone del Mobile in Milan and the Nomad di Montecarlo Show Room in Munich. We invested 50 thousand euros in the Ginori Museum, which is now open to the public.

Giorgiana Corsini and Neri Torrigiani

This year the Festival is devoted to Russian legacy in Florence. Could you please tell more about it?

This year we have announced the new mission charity fundraising for time-critical restoration and preservation of the great cultural and artistic legacy of Russian community that resided in Florence in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Having consulted with Natalia Parenko, the director of the Florentine branch of the Academy of Fine Arts in St. Petersburg, we invited Riccardo Prosperi, aka Simafra, a Florentine artist. He created concentric globes of different diameters from minerals mined in the Ural mines, such as gold, malachite, diamonds, coal. They represent the so-called "geological eras." And all these precious layers are associated with the traditional image of the Russian Matryoshka doll, which, in its turn, is associated with the image of a mother. A series of 10 compositions by Simafra is called Madre Terra (Mother Earth).
Simafras composition from Madre Terra Series (Mother Earth)

In the end of the 19th century, the Russian community permanently residing in Florence engaged Italian craftsmen to build the Orthodox church of the Nativity of Christ and St. Nicholas the Wonderworker designed by Mikhail Preobrazhensky, a Russian architect. While frescoes and icons were made by Russian artists, Italian craftsmen performed masonry, carvings and majolica. The scaled ceramic dome was made of materials supplied by the factory of Ulysses Cantagalli, the famous Florentine ceramist. The foundry works were performed by Giovanni Michelucci. The double portal leading to upper church was decorated with walnut wood depicting the Old Testament stories; it was made by Rinaldo Barbetti, one of the most renowned woodcarvers in the middle of the 19th century. The church is amazingly beautiful both inside and outside, but now it is in dire need of restoration, and we hope to raise funds for such works.

Russian Church in Florence (the Orthodox church of the Nativity of Christ and St. Nicholas the Wonderworker). Photo credit:

Princess Corsini, I would like to ask you a question about those very Russian families that moved to Florence in the early 19th century, as well as those that followed them.

Giorgiana Corsini:

In the 1800s, several noble Russian families came here. Unfortunately, there are almost no any offspring of theirs today. They were extremely attracted by local beauty and, of course, art, which could be seen and studied in the original. Those people came for a long time, so they acquired or built new villas and houses. It was important for them to live in the cradle of the Renaissance being surrounded by beauty. Those people of the first immigration wave were buried here.

In the 1900s, Russians of a somewhat different type came - these were professional writers, musicians, thinkers, and scientists. They were actually coming and going. Contemporary Russians are also interested in art and, on top of that, they want to know how their ancestors created, wrote, and composed, while living in Florence.

Speaking of today and the Festival representing Russian culture, Russian crafts, and cuisine: what role does Russian culture play today in Italy and in lives of Italians?

Russian culture has been absorbed by the Italian environment over the past two centuries. It has always been a sophisticated, deep culture. There is a direct bridge between modern times and the past that binds our cultures together.
Russian travellers no longer buy villas and do not settle here to live like their distant ancestors did in the 19th century. Nevertheless, our cultures - Tuscan and Russian - inevitably come closer.

I recall Tchaikovsky, who composed, in particular, the Queen of Spade here, or Dostoevsky, who wrote The idiot near the Palazzo Pitti. From your point of view, how come they were able to create such brilliant, yet absolutely Russian in spirit works while living in the heart of the Renaissance?

Dostoevsky had the whole novel in his head. Florence was the perfect paradise for him, a place of unconditional peace, where he was able to center his attention and concentrate better. I think such was exactly the case for many Russian geniuses.

If we compare Florence of Dostoevskys time and the modern city in the 21st century, what has changed?

One historian, who spoke at a round table discussion during our Festival, mentioned that Florence, in his opinion, was still a city from Dantes times. Florence stays as the treasure-house for priceless cultural heritage, which it makes available to all culture lovers.

The Villa Demidoffis located nor far from Florence. It has a huge territory and is not, I regret to say, in very good condition. Does your project cover this part of the Russian legacy to some extent?

This villa had many owners - Medici, Lorraine, Savoy, and then the Demidovs, who did a lot for this monument of architecture; however, they did not stay long. The villa was closed in the 1970s; then the Tuscany Region finally bought it out. They are going to restore the villa, but, to be honest, it requires a lot of money. The region all the time faces the need to cover more urgent expenses... Today we advocate for restoration of princes Demidovs art collection, which is held in the Stibbert Museum in Florence. It consists of the most unusual items: a monumental table made of malachite and decorated with gilt bronze, fireplaces made of hard rock, luxurious chandeliers and so on.

Villa Demidoff (the Villa di Pratolino). Photo credit:

Neri Torrigiani:

I would like to add that our charitable mission includes another very important project - theCimitero Evangelico agli Allori (the Evangelical Cemetery at Laurels), where the remains of artists, sculptors, writers and collectors of art repose. Those include many of the very Russians who settled in Florence two centuries ago. In particular, Vladimir Levitskiy, an Archpriest who initiated construction of the Russian Church of the Nativity of Christ and St. Nicholas, was buried there. Not only the graves are in a poor condition, but also the cemetery itself, since the land has partially sunk in on the hill where it is located. We are actively looking for people who would like to help preserve the memory of their ancestors and the Russian mark in Italian culture.

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