Discovering Browning, Lee and De Fauveau

A literary itinerary in Florence?

Jane Fortune
June 7, 2012

Inspired by a Florentine itinerary linked to Palazzo Strozzi's city-wide cultural and artistic extravaganza, the exhibit, American's in Florence: Sargent and the American Impressionists, The Florentine’s culture editor, Jane Fortune, shares her ‘gems,’ treasures that spotlight the importance of international artists and intellectuals in Florence in the nineteenth century and how they enhanced the city’s cultural wealth. 



Poet Elizabeth Browning and Casa Guidi 

In 1847, Robert Browning spirited his beloved Elizabeth to Florence a week after their secret marriage. In the fifteenth-century Palazzo Guidi, they leased a suite of eight rooms on the first floor, or piano nobile, and named it Casa Guidi. There, they entertained myriad international personalities, including American sculptor Harriet Hosmer. The couple lived in Casa Guidi until Elizabeth’s death in 1861 (she is buried in the ‘English Cemetery’ in Florence). The poets’ most recognized works were written in this apartment. For example, Elizabeth’s Casa Guidi Windows (1851) is a thoughtful essay-of-sorts recounting events linked to the Risorgimento, the struggle for Italy’s unification (see TF 36). The movement, which she strongly supported, was literally played out before her as she looked out onto the streets of Florence from Casa Guidi’s windows. In this residence, Browning also wrote her most famous collection of love sonnets, Sonnets from the Portuguese, which include the ever-quoted lines ‘How do I love thee?/ Let me count the ways.’ Today, the apartment is administered by the Landmark Trust in London, part of the Eton College Collection. It is open to visitors and is available for rent. The number of rooms and layout are the same as when the Brownings lived there. It is a charming place!



Piazza San Felice 8

Open April to November:

Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 3pm to 6pm



De Fauveau and the ‘English Cemetery’ 

An oasis in the middle of Piazza Donatello, this cemetery is filled with 1,409 tombs of writers, artists and personalities from 16 different countries (see double article in TF 122 and 124). In 1877 it was forced to strictly limit its entries due to lack of open space for burial or expansion. My interest here is Florentine sculptor Felicie De Fauveau (1802–1866) and her marble sculptures atop the monumental tombs of Sir Charles Lyon Herbert and Lady Harriet Frances Pellew.


De Fauveau’s life was fascinating. Born in Tuscany in 1802, she spent her childhood in Florence before moving to Paris at the height of the Restoration period, where she learned painting and sculpture. Supported by the Duchess of Berry, the daughter of King Frances I of France, De Fauveau was the first woman to exhibit at the Paris Salon in 1827.


She was imprisoned at Angers and later exiled from France for participating in the country’s royalist insurrection movement in 1832. Forced by authorities to dismantle her Paris studio, she joined her mother in Florence in 1834, and established a successful atelier on via dei Serragli. Fittingly, the site of her atelier is currently a school for artisans and the applied arts. 


A lovely neo-gothic holy-water fountain by De Faveau is in storage at Palazzo Pitti. Her other works in Florence include two public marble funeral monuments, both currently in need of restoration and maintenance. One, in the cloister of Santa Maria del Carmine, is dedicated to the artist’s mother. The second, in the upper loggia of the outdoor cloister in Santa Croce, commemorates Louise Favreau, a 17-year-old West Indian poet whose parents originally had the monument created for the basilica’s Medici chapel. The sculpture is inspired by a poem the girl wrote. Don’t miss seeing these two gems.  



ENGLISH CEMETERY Piazza Donatello 38

Summer hours:

3pm to 6pm, Tuesdays to Fridays;

Mondays, 9am to noon 




Piazza Del Carmine

Summer hours:

Monday, Wednesday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm;

Tuesday, Sunday and holidays, 1pm to 5pm



CHIESA SANTA CROCE, Piazza Santa Croce

Summer hours:

Monday through Saturday, 9:30am to 5.30pm;

Sunday, 1pm to 5:30pm




Florentine spots linked to writer Vernon Lee 

One English writer who spent her life in Florence particularly fascinates me: Vernon Lee (the pseudonym of Violet Paget, 1856–1935; see TF 12). She owned the fifteenth-century Villa Il Palmerino, located near the hills of Fiesole, for 46 years. During that time, the author ‘held court’ with such luminaries as Bernard and Mary Berenson, Edith Wharton, Robert Browning, Oscar Wilde, Aldous Huxley and Henry James. John Singer Sargent painted her portrait in 1881, and it hangs in the Tate Museum in London. Lee was considered one of the greatest interpreters of Italian art and culture and Il Palmerino thrived as a literary salon, where artists, writers and great intellectual minds gathered. 



After Lee’s death, English painter and writer Carola Costa and her husband, the Florentine artist Federigo Angeli, bought the villa and its current owners are their children and grandchildren. Although Vernon Lee and Carola Costa never knew each other, they both individually supported the emancipation of women and Il Palmerino has inherited their commitment. ‘This house has a female soul,’ says Federica Parretti, Carola Costa’s granddaughter and the director of the villa’s Associazione Culturale il Palmerino. To uphold the spirit of its past owners, the villa’s traditions continue today: the association offers lectures, concerts and workshops to the public, fostering the exchange of ideas and supporting cultural events. Don’t miss visiting this unique, beautiful villa (you need a car to get there). Vernon Lee is buried in the Evangelical Cemetery ‘degli Allori,’ which is another beautiful site in its own right and worth a visit for its various famous gravesites. 




via del Palmerino 12

For event schedule, visit




via Senese 184

Summer hours:

Monday through Saturday, 8am to noon and 3pm to 6pm

closed Sundays



Author of To Florence, Con Amore: 90 Ways to Love the City and Invisible Women: Forgotten Artists of Florence, Dr. Jane Fortune is known in Florence as ‘Indiana Jane’ because of her efforts to identify and restore art treasures by women artists in Florentine museums and deposits. Author and philanthropist, she is founder and chair of the Advancing Women Artists Foundation and creator of the Jane Fortune Research Program on Women Artists in the Age of the Medici at the Medici Archive Project.




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