You could say there was something of an age difference. I was 18 years old; the house was 536. Nevertheless, it was love at first sight. Sitting in a darkened college classroom in the American South, hazily absorbing the steady stream of Renaissance masterpieces that flickered before me, my eyes suddenly widened. The professor’s monologue on classical pilasters and arched windows quickly faded as I fixated on glowing skin, chiseled features and an elegant stature. Rucellai was the name—Palazzo Rucellai—a private residence in via della Vigna Nuova. I duly took note and, changing my major from biology to art history as a result of this chance encounter, wore my heart on my sleeve from that day forward.
The golden glow of Palazzo Rucellai
Ours was a long-distance relationship, at first. Graduate study and then a teaching career guaranteed frequent visits to Florence. On every pilgrimage, I never failed to pay my respects, to stand in the far corner of the tiny piazza opposite the palace, to admire at a remove. Palazzo Rucellai was still in family hands, after all. Closed to the masses. Until, that is, the perfect storm of a 12-month sabbatical and a vacant room with a pristine address landed me inside the palazzo of my dreams. That I now possessed a key to the front door of this magnum opus exhilarated me.
Life together was something of a roller coaster. The house was often indulgent, coaxing me into the courtyard on silent nights, enticing me to run my hands over its girdled columns. Other times, it was decidedly uncharitable, trapping me in its birdcage elevator or releasing odors and noises befitting of its age.
The cracking joints and chronic gas were par for the course, I reasoned, but the cold shoulder? Despite its fickle ways, Palazzo Rucellai provided me with more than a sabbatical address—it gave me a stage on which to perform or, depending upon my mood, a screen behind which to hide. I, in turn, became fiercely protective of the house, defending it against neighborhood gossip, even as, behind doors, I worked tirelessly to unearth its innermost secrets. Admittedly, we’ve had our ups and downs; yet more than 30 years on, now living apart, Palazzo Rucellai and I remain soulmates.