Reproduced with permission of Eton College
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About Casa Guidi
A Brief History of The Florentine Home of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Casa Guidi is a suite of eight rooms situated on the piano nobile of Palazzo Guidi, located opposite the south wing of the Pitti Palace, at Piazza San Felice 8, Florence, Italy.
Palazzo Guidi was originally two 15th-century structures. The corner house was built by the Ridolfi family, who wanted a residence near the Pitti. In 1618, Count Camillo Guidi, Secretary of State for the Medici, bought this building from Lorenzo Ridolfi. In 1650, the adjoining house was given to Admiral Camillo Guidi, nephew of Count Guidi, by the Commenda of the Military Order of St. Stephen. The two houses were combined and refurbished in the late 18th century. In the early 1840's, the Guidi family sub-divided the grand state rooms on the piano nobile into two apartments.
Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning leased one of these apartments in 1847, less than a year after their marriage. It became their home for the remaining 14 years of their married life. Soon after the birth of their son, Pen, Elizabeth started calling the apartment Casa Guidi, thereby changing "a mere palace into a home."
During these years, the poets wrote some of their best-known works, including Elizabeth's Casa Guidi Windows and Aurora Leigh. Here, too, Robert wrote Men and Women and conceived The Ring and the Book.
As authors of some of the most famous poetical works of the 19th century, the Brownings attracted noted visitors, including Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Frederick Tennyson, William Wetmore Story, and the Trollopes.
Pen Browning, who acquired the palazzo in 1893, initiated efforts to establish Casa Guidi as a fitting memorial to his parents. He died in 1912, having failed to carry out his plans. In 1916, through the efforts of Laura Ellen Centaro, an American admirer of the Brownings who had purchased the palazzo, the Browning Foundation was formed to preserve Casa Guidi. But world events and Signora Centaro's premature death led to the organization's disbandment in 1931.
In 1970, Casa Guidi faced the danger of being converted into commercial offices. Through a fundraising campaign mounted by the New York Browning Society, a hairbreadth rescue of seven rooms (of the original suite of eight) was accomplished. When it became apparent that the campaign to save Casa Guidi would be successful, the Browning Institute was formed to take title to the property.
For more than 20 years the Browning Institute was the guardian of Casa Guidi, establishing a library and museum, as well as promoting cultural events to encourage the study of the lives and works of the poets. However, in the early 1990's, it became evident that efforts to attract the funds necessary to fulfil the Institute's stated goals for Casa Guidi were proving difficult. Directors of the Institute were advised to seek the aid of a larger institution that would be sympathetic to the Institute's goals and as devoted to their achievement.
Following these suggestions, various institutions were approached and discussions ensued. Finally, at a special members' meeting in October 1991, a formal recommendation was overwhelmingly approved to transfer ownership of Casa Guidi to Eton College. After obtaining the necessary legal approvals in the United States, Great Britain, and Italy, official ownership of Casa Guidi was transferred to Eton in January 1993.
To ensure the prompt completion of the restoration of Casa Guidi, Eton College engaged the Landmark Trust as its agent to assist in the task of renovation and refurbishment. Working together for the next few years, Eton College, the Landmark Trust, and the Browning Institute (with the Friends of Casa Guidi), completed the work of restoring the rooms. A formal opening was held in July 1995 to mark the successful fulfilment of this century-old desire to create a lasting memorial to Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.
Casa Guidi is open to visitors Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m., 1 April through 30 November. Information about letting the rooms may be obtained by contacting:
The Landmark Trust
Berkshire SL6 3SW
Tel: 01628 825925
The Friends of Casa Guidi
The Friends of Casa Guidi, in support of the Florentine home of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, assist Eton College through generous contributions, which are used exclusively for Casa Guidi. *See below for detailed information about Casa Guidi [insert link to About Casa Guidi, below]
Each December, the Friends issue a letter in appeal for contributions to specific projects at Casa Guidi. Over the past few years, the Friends have concentrated their efforts on restoring and furnishing the Drawing Room at Casa Guidi in the style of the painting of that room by George Mignaty, commissioned by Robert Browning shortly after Elizabeth Barrett Browning's death.
|Courtesy of Mills College, Oakland, California
Most recently the Friends have commissioned a copy of Fanny Haworth's painting of Pen Browning at the piano for the Drawing Room at Casa Guidi. Additionally, the Friends provided a copy of a bronze plaque of Aeschylus that the Brownings had at Casa Guidi. And thanks to a fortuitous surplus from the 1997-98 appeal, the Friends were able to secure a manuscript letter by Robert Browning when it came up for auction in early 1998. It is one of the few letters known to have been written by the poet in Italian.
The 1998-99 appeal was designated to commission copies of two works of art by members of the Pre-Raphaelites, which the Brownings placed to the left of the fireplace in the Drawing Room. They are a bronze medallion of Robert Browning by Thomas Woolner and a watercolour by D.G. Rossetti of Tennyson reading Maud. Currently the Friends are focusing on development of the Capital Purposes Fund, which is held in reserve toward the future possibility of acquiring additional Browning rooms in Palazzo Guidi.
Contributions may be sent to:
The Friends of Casa Guidi
Eton College Library
Berks SL4 6DB
Cheques should be made payable to Eton College. Eton College is a registered charity and has been classified as a 501(c)(3) which is not a private foundation. Contributions are tax-deductible to the extent provided by law.
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