Amongst the glistening olive trees, a scenic road cuts through and leads to a beautiful building. Students walk this cypress-lined route daily, but few enter this building, choosing to turn right at the end, heading to Villa Ulivi, where their classes take place.
This building is none other than Villa La Pietra, a house museum established by NYU when they acquired this property and the surrounding area in 1994. It was the residence place of many families: starting with Francesco Sassetti during the Renaissance, to the Capponis in the 17th and 19th centuries, to the Actons in 1903. The site has been renovated and changed many times, but its rich history still peeks through in details of the building. The Sasseti coat of arms still stands in the dining room, while the Capponis' beautiful frescoed rooms continue to dazzle visitors.
The facade and beautiful gardens on the building are paired with the Actons’ impressive art collection. Arthur Acton, the father of two boys and the husband of the wealthy Hortense Mitchell, was an amateur art dealer and devoted his life to decorating this home with his wife. When Harold Acton, the eldest son and only surviving family member, bequeathed this location to NYU, Villa La Pietra took on a new role: the Museum.
Historic house museums are a type of museum that concerns itself with the physical location and memory of the place. Many modern museums have outlandish and innovative architectural spaces, combined with sleek white interiors. The house museum defies this norm by grounding itself in its history and original context. Oftentimes, homes of prestigious individuals, like writers, musicians, and even politicians, are turned into house museums. The tricky aspect of these unique museums is the ever-shifting nature of homes. Many of these museums include furniture or decorations that have been acquired elsewhere, hoping to imitate the building’s original grandeur, but are not truly authentic, as they should be in a proper museum. The International Council of Museums (ICOM) aims to navigate these intricacies and has established different classes of house museums, allowing curators to fill in empty rooms as deemed necessary.
However, Villa La Pietra is actually one of the few historic museums with its complete original furnishings. When Harold Acton left his home, he requested the villa’s decorated state to be preserved exactly, continuing the legacy of his family. Now the collection is considered Italian national cultural property and is governed by the Italian Ministry of Culture, following all the strict laws to protect its authenticity.
A tour of the home and its surrounding Renaissance Revival garden is a must for any students studying at the campus or just visiting Florence and can be easily arranged through their website
Insiya Motiwala is Staff Illustrator and Columnist. Email them at email@example.com.