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Not just at the table: the art of taste in museums and gardens

If we want to learn about history through the experience of cooking, and about Tuscan plant and animal life also through their portrayal, this itinerary proposes the theme of food and wine theme from a different viewpoint. Customs and traditions in the kitchen, foods, varieties of fruit, vegetables and wildlife interpreted in an unusual way: from still life to frescoes and to botany.

The splendid villa designed by Sangallo for Lorenzo the Magnificent, the Medici Villa in Poggio a Caiano, majestically guards the secrets hidden within its walls, such as the sudden death of Francis I and his great love Bianca Cappello, but that's not all: since 2007, it contains the first European museum dedicated to still life. There are about 200 Renaissance paintings depicting game, fish, birds, fruits, flowers and utensils in their natural context, or on laden tables. The paintings were a source of pride in the Medici court, who were not only great patrons of Flemish, Dutch and Italian talents, but innovators of the change in the concept of food. The importance of the kitchen as a place of excellence for the preparation of banquets giving the final touch to parties, meetings and military political agreements. The canvases show us wooden tables with flasks of wine, copper pans and earthenware pots full of vegetables, colourful spices and tables laden with food, with laurel and citrus fruit centrepieces. It is fascinating and intriguing that, in his paintings, the artist Bartolomeo Bimbi, highlighted biodiversity, diseases and seasonal pests, painted with meticulous perfection thanks to the advice of leading botanists in that period.

Dipinto di Bartolomeo Bimbi raffigurante vassoi di pere
Bartolomeo Bimbi, "Pere", 1699. Museo della Natura Morta, Poggio a Caiano

In the Palazzo Pubblico (Town Hall) of Siena, thanks to the frescoes of the Good and Bad Government, we can see the Tuscan countryside depicted with its rural workers sowing seeds, ploughing and hoeing during the cycle of the seasons. The tools for harvesting and reaping the grain are painted like a realistic modern photograph, bearing witness to the abundant daily life that the countryside was able to convey. 

Ambrogio Lorenzetti, affresco dell'Allegoria ed effetti del Buono e del Cattivo Governo, dettaglio
Ambrogio Lorenzetti, "Allegoria ed effetti del Buono e del Cattivo Governo", 1338-39, dettaglio. Palazzo Pubblico, Siena

Citrus fruits, one of the Medici family's great passions and much loved by Giovanni, son of Cosimo the Elder, were grown in the beautiful Medici Villa in Fiesole. In the middle of the 17th century, Francesco Redi found himself studying an unusual fruit that had appeared in the garden of the Villa degli Agli in Florence, in the Novoli area. The Villa, owned by wealthy merchants who had made their fortune with garlic bulbs, had a large garden that witnessed the official encounter between Christina of Lorraine, Caterina dei Medici's favourite niece, and Ferdinando I dei Medici. The strange citrus fruit was a combination of bitter orange, citron and lemon, so bizarre that it was called the bizzarria and it also gave its name to the road running alongside the Villa. In the 1980s, this citrus fruit was rediscovered by the botanist Galeotti, who inserted it into the park of the Medici Villa di Castello, where the largest collection of potted citrus fruits has been located since the 16th century, in the Boboli Gardens and in the Botanical Garden of Florence.

Pianta e frutti di Citrus aurantium, detto "Bizzarria"
Citrus aurantium, "Bizzarria"
  • Progetto finanziato a valere sui fondi Legge n. 77 del 20 febbraio 2006 “Misure speciali di tutela e fruizione dei siti italiani di interesse culturale, paesaggistico e ambientale, inseriti nella “lista del patrimonio mondiale”, posti sotto la tutela dell’UNESCO”