Culture classes

Through the windows of Casa Guidi

Rachel Mychajluk
January 16, 2014

Rust-colored circles stacked in diagonal rows fit neatly in the rectangular holes in the church’s tan stone walls; the gray drips down the ledge of this bottle-bottom window mark the many birds that come and go to perch at this exact spot. This is the view directly above the writing desk formerly used by famous English poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning in Casa Guidi, once their home, near the Pitti Palace.


Casa Guidi inspired countless works, including a poem called Casa Guidi Windows, penned by Elizabeth Barrett Browning while sitting at that very desk. Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning lived in the piano nobile apartment between 1847 and 1861. The flat was bequeathed to Eton College upon the death of the Browning’s son, Pen, and it has been lovingly restored with period furniture to recreate its look. More than 100 years later, their home still remains a hub of creativity and continues to unite expats in their artistic endeavors.


Through Penny Howard’s Florence events business, Beyond the Yalla Dog, Florentines and visitors recently had the opportunity to take a watercolor portrait class on the top floor of Casa Guidi, now inhabited by Australian Victor Caulfield. Professional artist Glynis Barnes-Mellish instructed an intimate class of eight participants around the dining table, teaching shape and color theory. Some of her tips included adding cerulean tones around the hairline and yellows to the fleshier areas of the face. The class cartooned (drawing the model before laying down color, more deliberate marks than sketching) and painted from live models, aiming to capture character and emotion along with facial features.


In between learning how to hold a brush and to sweep a perfect gradient from deep red to a translucent sunset haze, the students had lunch: wheels of local cheese, ravioli with pear and Gorgonzola, and wine bottled at the local market—a perfect, replenishing Tuscan spread. The students laughed and chitchatted while enjoying the meal. From the table, we were further able to peer outside and enjoy spectacular views of the neighboring church and hear the steeple bells swing, as they hit and clang brilliantly, signaling the time.


At the end of the daylong lesson, the class enjoyed a tour of the Browning residence downstairs. Taking in the home where the famous couple produced their art, the time gap between their era there and the class seemed to fade away; the charm that inspired the couple decades ago remains vividly intact today.


To find out more about classes held at Casa Guidi, visit


Casa Guidi museum will open to the public from April 1 to November 30; for more information (in Italian), see

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