A Tale of Two Horaces

“I can truly say that I never was happy but at Florence…” (Horace Walpole correspondence, vol.19 pp.486). 

Strawberry Hill House’s latest In Focus display is dedicated to the Italian Grand Tour, in particular the friendship between Strawberry Hill House creator Horace Walpole (1717 – 1797), and the British Envoy to Florence, Horace Mann (1706 – 1786). 

Horace Walpole was fascinated by Florence and Strawberry Hill contained a number of Florentine art works received as gifts or acquired thanks to his friend Horace Mann. Strawberry Hill’s latest display – on until 24 July 2022 – brings back some of these magnificent treasures. 

This display is inspired by three volumes of Studio d’architettura civile sopra gli ornamenti di porte, e finestre … tratte da alcune fabbriche insigni di Firenze illustrated by the renowned Italian architect, Ferdinando Ruggieri (1691 – 1741) and produced exactly 300 years ago in 1722. 

The volumes, which represent a rare survey of Florentine architecture, are illustrated with exquisite plates showing the works by the leading mannerist architects active in Florence between the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century, including Ammanati, Buontalenti, Dosio, Vasari, Michelangelo and Cigoli. Originally part of Walpole’s Library, they were dispersed at auction in 1842 along with the rest of the collection. It is thanks to the Acceptance in Lieu Scheme, administered by the Arts Council, that three volumes have finally returned home. 

The purpose of this latest In Focus display is to place Ruggeri›s volumes at the centre of a dense network of relationships and works of art that resonate with Walpole’s infatuation with Florence and the Medici. 

Mann, who arrived in Florence in 1737, was a leading figure at the Court of Florence, not only from a diplomatic point of view but also for his indefatigable promotion of the arts. Highly esteemed by the Florentine intelligentsia, he became a point of reference for all the British Grand tourists. Some of the most iconic objects in the Walpole collection were received thanks to Mann’s mediation, from the portrait of Bianca Capello – the unfortunate wife of Francesco I de Medici – at the origin of the invention of the word Serendipity, to the famous marble Roman Eagle, one of Walpole’s most treasured trophies. 

After Walpole’s departure, the two men were never to meet again. However, their correspondence, which covers over 40 years, constitutes a lively and invaluable source of information about the cultural and artistic life of Florence at that time, while simultaneously illustrating in detail the artistic relations, antiquarian interests and dissonances in taste of the two friends. 

The three volumes are now on display together with a series of important paintings and objects from public and private collections, which tell us more about the passion of the two Horaces for Florence and their antiquarian pursuits. These include some of Thomas Patch’s most distinctive paintings and engravings; various extraordinary portraits such as Walpole as a young grand tourist by Venetian painter Rosalba Carriera (Lord Cholmondeley’s Collection) and Horace Mann by Anton Von Maron (private collection); a splendid Trompe-l’oeil or Inganno by Caterina della Santa with a dedication to Cavaliere Orazio Mann, along with the typical grand tourist paraphernalia including antique gems, ancient coins, drawings and engravings. 

Tickets are included in general admission. In addition, a series of online and in-person talks accompanies the display; the talks will explore the friendship between Horace Walpole and Horace Mann, the British Envoy to Florence and his inner circle, including the painter Thomas Patch. 

For further information and tickets, visit strawberryhillhouse.org.uk

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