Sunday, April 17, 2011

THE SWEET SMELL OF THE BAPTISED BEAN AT THE BOBOLI GARDENS


Jean Baptiste Charpentier
La tasse du chocolat, 1768

Kaffeehaus, 1774-74,
Zenobio del Rosso (architect)
commissioned by
Grand duke Pietro Leopoldo II
of the Hapsburg-Lorraine family
Now that the weather is getting nicer a visit to the Boboli gardens would be a lovely way to spend an afternoon or morning. The Boboli gardens were, for the most part constructed by the Medici family and they were their representative, functional and recreational gardens. They were one of the first landscaped gardens since antiquity. The Medici would hold important family celebrations here, perform plays and spectacles in the outdoor theatre, go hunting, as well as grow plants and vegetables, harvest a trout farm and create ice caves. Each ruling Medici made a significant change or enlargement to the palace and the gardens from the time they bought the land in 1549 until the last Medici Grand duke who died in 1737. The Duke of Lorraine and his wife Marie-Theresa of the Hapsburg family (the future Holy Roman Emperor and Empress), took over the Duchy of Tuscany after the Medici and they came to live in the Pitti palace. From here, as the Medici’s had done, they ruled Tuscany and held court, until the unification of the nation in 1861 (this year celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Italian federation) and they too made significant contributions to the estate. Grand duke Pietro Leopold of the Hapsburg family (Grand duke from 1765-90, the second of four Lorraine-Hapsburgs who ruled Tuscany)  built one of my favourite sites in the Boboli gardens, the Kaffeehaus (1770’s) commissioned to the architect Zenobi del Rosso. A wonderfully civilised structure in the gardens where guests and the family could stop and have tea, coffee and hot chocolate. All that carriage riding and strolling in the gardens can bring on a parched feeling and the Kaffeehaus comes to the rescue! The lovely pale pastel green of the exterior was the colour of the Duchy of  Lorraine (this colour can also be seen on the walls of the Uffizi staircase up to the top floor), restored and repainted in the 1990’s. The Kaffeehaus looks beautiful, nestled amongst the greenery, seen from the other side of the river on the top floor of the Uffizi gallery, or indeed when actually strolling in the Boboli gardens. The Kaffeehaus is built in the Rococo style, the fashionable style of the mid eighteenth century (succeeding the Baroque, it was an aristocratic decorative style characterised by a sense of weightlessness in  architecture, light colours, associated with folly, pleasure and entertainment), with hints of Eastern touches, such as the bulb dome, as was in vogue in Vienna (the Hapsburg main centre). It is akin to the pleasure houses in the gardens of Versailles. The structure nowadays unfortunately is an empty shell (it was also beautifully frescoed on the interior with pastoral and illusionistic scenes), as plans to open it once more as a coffee shop were halted due to doubts regarding its structural condition.
In the eighteenth century drinking coffee and hot chocolate was something reserved for the elite echelons of society. It was expensive and a status symbol. Chocolate had entered Europe with the discover of the Americas in the fifteenth century and coffee was thought to have first come to the continent through Venice around the time of Marco Polo in the thirteenth century. Coffee had been drunk for centuries by the Muslim world, as early as the eighth century, but it only began to be something that was drunk by a growing number of people in Europe during the 1500’s. Still associated with the Muslim world however, it brought some feelings of unease amongst the clergy who viewed it as the devil’s drink. The legend is that in 1600, when complaining to the pope that he should ban it, Clement VIII demanded that he himself should try it first. Taking an instant liking to the delicious and exotic bean, he decided to baptise it, so that it could become a welcome member of the church and be freely drunk at leisure!

aerial view of the Pitti Palace & the Boboli gardens
the Kaffeehaus building & terraced gardens in front to the left.


2 comments:

  1. What a shame the Kaffeehaus isn't open today!
    How utterly delightful it would be to sip a coffee, or indeed a hot chocolate, in the Boboli Gardens!

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  2. The descriptions match those written (and reported in my "Travels to Tuscany & N. Lazio) by Cardinal Henry Stuart who visited Florence and the gardens...and the zoo in 1763-4. The BM bookshop might still have copies, if not contact me directly.
    Mary Jane Cryan www.elegantetruria.com

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